It may seem unfathomable, but DNA testing has shown the towering Tyrannasaurus rex’s closest living animal relatives include the humble chicken, a new study has found.
The research published this week in the journal Science marked “the first use of molecular data to place a non-avian dinosaur in a phylogenetic tree that traces the evolution of species,” the journal said.
“These results match predictions made from skeletal anatomy, providing the first molecular evidence for the evolutionary relationships of a non-avian dinosaur,” co-author Chris Organ, a postdoctoral researcher in organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University said.
“Though we only had six peptides – just 89 amino acids – from T. rex, we were able to establish these relationships with a relatively high degree of support,” he added.
“With more data, we’d likely see the T. rex branch on the phylogenetic tree between alligators and chickens and ostriches, though we can’t resolve this position with currently available data,” he added.
Scientists long suspected birds, and not more basal reptiles, are dinosaurs’ closest living relatives. But that hypothesis had rested largely on morphological similarities in bird and dinosaur skeletal structure.
The bits of dinosaur protein were taken from a fossil femur found in 2003 by John Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in a fossil-rich stretch of land spanning Wyoming and Montana.