MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: Do a baby develop wings when DNA from a bird is placed into the baby's cell

Date: Tue Jan 30 15:17:30 2001
Posted By: Jennifer Phillips, Grad student, Developmental Genetics/Biology, University of Oregon
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 979871621.Ge

Dear Yan,

Thank you for such an interesting question!  To begin with, it is definitely 
possible to place cells from one organism into another organism.  Such a 
creature even has a special name:  CHIMERA, after a fire-breathing 
monster from Greek mythology which had the head of a lion, the body of a 
goat, and the tail of a serpent.  Nowadays, any organism ( plant, mouse, 
primate, whatever) which contains some cells (and hence DNA) from another 
species  is called a Chimera.  However, the results of such genetic trickery 
are not nearly as exciting as a lion-headed, goat-bodied, serpent-tailed 
fire-breathing monster, or even a winged human, to address your specific 
question.  To understand why your proposed experiment wouldn't work, you 
need to know that the genes which direct a developing baby bird to make a 
wing and the genes that direct a baby human to make an arm are already VERY 
similar.  Indeed, if you compare the wing of a bird to your own arm, you'll 
notice that they share a very similar design -- or, to throw another science 
term at you, they are HOMOLOGOUS structures. However, buildiing a body is a 
very complicated process, requiring the coordination of cell movements and 
the expression of MANY genes over a long period of time, and due to species-
specific signals in the cells that will develop into limbs, baby birds end 
up with wings, and we humans get arms. 

I hope this helps, please write again if you would like more information 
about this topic

Warm regards, 


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