In DepthEvolution

How birds got their beaks

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Science  15 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6236, pp. 744
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6236.744

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What a boon the bird's bill has been. Agile beaks of all shapes and sizes, from the gulping gape of a pelican to the needle nose of a hummingbird, have enabled the 10,000 avian species to thrive from the Arctic to the tropics, build intricate nests, and eat many different foods. Now, researchers say they have identified genes that transformed an ancestral snout into a bird's bill. By manipulating the genes' proteins, they have turned back the clock in developing chicken embryos, producing skulls that resemble those of alligators today. Their conclusions are at odds with an earlier study. But even researchers who might disagree with the result applaud the melding of fossil studies with developmental research.