In our 37th episode of I Know Dino, we had the pleasure of speaking with paleontologist Jack Horner. Jack Horner is the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, the Regent’s professor of paleontology, adjunct curator of the National Museum of Natural History, and he teaches the honors program at Montana State University. He is also the inspiration for the character Dr. Alan Grant in the original Jurassic Park. His first big discovery was in the 1970s of a nesting site for the dinosaur Maiasaura, which means “Good Mother Lizard.” Since then he has named several other dinosaur species, including Orodromeus, and he even has two dinosaurs named after him (Achelousaurus horneri and Anasazisaurus horneri). He has also discovered one of the largest T-rexes known (even larger than the famous T-rex named Sue). His research includes dinosaur evolution and ecology, emphasizing growth and behavior. He has written eight books about dinosaurs, including a children’s book, as well as over 100 professional papers, and numerous articles. And he has also given Ted Talks about dinosaurs.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Maiasaura, whose name means “Good Mother Reptile”
- A hadrosaurid (duck-billed) dinosaur that lived in Montana in the late Cretaceous
- First fossils found in 1978, and genus named in 1979
- Marion Brandvold and her son David Trexler found “Egg Mountain” (a nesting site) in Montana
- Marion found the eggs, and Laurie Trexler found the holotype
- Laurie Trexler found a Maiasaura skull, and Jack Horner and Robert Makela described the holotype
- Species is Maiasaura peeblesorum
- Name is based on the nests with eggs, embryos and young dinosaurs that were found, which were evidence that Maiasaura fed the young in the nest (first evidence of a dinosaur doing so)
- Maia was a goddess in Greek mythology; using the feminine form of saurus, saura, to emphasize the motherness
- Most dinosaurs have a male-oriented name (saurus v saura)
- The fossils were found on John and James Peebles’ land, so species type is named after them
- Hundreds of Maiasaura fossils have been found (over 200 specimens, all ages)
- Other dinosaurs that lived in the area at the same time included the troodontid Troodonand, the hypsilophodont Orodromeus, the dromaeosaurid Bambiraptor, the hadrosaurid Hypacrosaurus
- The herd of Maiasaura were buried in volcanic ash
- Herds may have been as large as 10,000 Maiasaura
- Maiasaura is one of the few dinosaurs where there is solid proof of living in herds
- Lived in herds and had muscular tails (only defense)
- Because there was such a large herd, they may have migrated seasonally to find more food
- Area where the eggs were found is now known as “Egg Mountain” in the Two Medicine Formation in Montana
- The nesting site is communal
- Nests were close together, like modern seabirds (23 ft or 7 m in between nests, about the length of adult Maiasaura)
- Eggs were about the size of ostrich eggs, and nests had 30-40 eggs in them (in a circular or spiral pattern)
- Maiasaura was probably too heavy to sit on its nest
- Incubated eggs using rotting vegetation (Maiasaura put the vegetation in the nest instead of sitting on top of the eggs)
- As the vegetation rotted, it emitted heat
- When eggs hatched, the baby Maiasaura did not have fully developed legs and could not walk (but they had partly worn teeth, so adults probably brought food to them)
- In 1996, a new study was published that compared newly hatched birds and crododilians to dinosaur embryos and hatchlings, which found that hip bone development was more important than leg bone development, so the non-developed leg bones of newly hatched Maiasaura did not necessarily indicate a lack of mobility. The study concluded baby Maiasaura was more precocial (advanced) than previously thought and may not have needed as much parental care at first
- However, in 2001 Horner found that growth rates and other developmental differences between Troodon, Orodromeus, and Maiasaura (Troodon and Orodromeus were precocial while Maiasaura was altricial or needing a lot of care)
- Dr. Paul L. Else hypothesized that Maiasaura produced “crop milk”, like how some modern birds (pigeons, flamingos, produce a fatty liquid for their babies)
- Crop milk had antibodies, fat, protein, etc.
- Else wrote an article called “Dinosaur lactation?” about crop milk, based on the relationship between dinosaurs and birds. Maiasaura were probably producers of crop milk because babies may not have been able to break down plants, and also this fortified milk substance may have helped the babies grow quickly
- However, the way birds secrete their crop milk is different (pigeons have a crop organ, but emperor penguins have it come from the lining in their esophagus), and also crocodylians (closest living relatives to dinosaurs, other than birds) do not have this ability, so it’s unlikely Maiasaura could do this
- Jack Horner found that “multiple horizons of nests layered one on top of each other” so the dinosaurs probably went to the same site “over multiple breeding seasons”
- Maiasaura may have been similar to sea birds, where they usually live in smaller groups, but once a year live in the same area to raise its young
- In their first year, the babies grew from 16 in (41 cm) to 58 in (147 cm) and then left the nest (rapid growth may mean they were warm blooded)
- Babies looked very different from adults (larger eyes, shorter snout–much cuter, as seen in animals who need their parents in order to survive when they are young)
- Juveniles (under 4 years) walked on two legs, adults on four legs
- Front legs were much shorter than hind legs, so when Maiasaura ran, probably ran on back legs, using its tail for balance
- In 2001 paleontologist David Dilkes said Maiasaura may have changed its posture as it grew older, based on muscle scars that show young Maiasaura ran on two legs and then walked on four legs when it got bigger
- Jorge Cubo, Holly Woodward, Ewan Wolff, and Jack Horner reported that, after cutting open two bones (one of a one-year old Maiasaura and one of a four-year old), the bone growth shows the one-year-old being similar to bipedal animals, and the four-year-old as similar with quadrupedal animals
- The bones had “rinds of extraneous bone that quickly grew over the outer surfaces”, showing a response to strains. Both dinosaurs probably broke their right fibulae, and extra bone grew in response to the strains on their tibias
- This leads to more speculation on whether or not there are too many different types of named dinosaurs, and whether some of them may actually just be juveniles of others
- Adult Maiasaura was about 30 ft (9 m) long
- About 6-8 ft (2-2.5 m) tall and weighed 3-4 tons
- Had a flat beak, thick nose, spiky crest in front of eyes (males possibly used to fight each other to impress females and attract mates)
- Four fingers on hands and feet had hoof-like claws
- Toothless beak, cheeks to hold in food
- Adult Maiasaura probably ate about 200 pounds of food per day (leaves and seeds)
- Maiasaura coprolites (from Wyoming) show that they ate lots of wood
- Maiasaura is the state fossil of Montana (as of 1985)
- In 1985, astronaut Loren Acton went on an 8-day mission called Spacelab 2, and took with him a piece of Maiasaura bone and eggshell into space (they are now in the Museum of the Rockies in Montana)
- In 2010, there was an animated Japanese film (based on a book) called You Are Umasou, where a Maiasaura raises a baby T-rex
- A hadrosaur, but not the largest hadrosaur
- Maiasaura is most closely related to Brachylophosaurus, which is known as the “dinosaur mummy” because in 2000, a subadult named “Leonardo” was found, and it was a partially mummified skeleton
- Maiasaura is a saurolophine hadrosaur, because the crest on its snout is solid
- Two subfamilies: lambeosaurines (hollow crests) and saurolophines with solid crests (pre-2010 most hadrosaurines classified as saurolophines) (talk more about it on Episode 31: Corythosaurus)
- Maiasaura is part of the subfamily of hadrosaurids, saurolophinae
- Before the group was known as Hardosaurinae (hadrosaurs that for the most part didn’t have crests), but then the genus Hadrosaurus was found to be more primitive so the subfamily was renamed Saurolophinae
- Saurolophinae dinosaurs either have no crests or solid crests (the other subfamily is Lambosaurinae, which have hollow crests)
- Fun Fact: Fossilization requires specimens to be burried quickly (like in a marsh or quicksand), so we may not ever discover dinosaurs that lived on tops of mountains or in other conditions that don’t lend themselves to fossilization
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Jack Horner:
SABRINA: Garret and I are really big fans and we’ve seen your TED Talks. How did you get involved in Jurassic Park and become the inspiration for the character Doctor Alan Grant?
JACK HORNER: Well the inspiration thing, you know a lot of it was Michael Crichton. When I met him he claimed he had read my first book, Digging Dinosaurs, then based the character around myself and he apparently had also read Bob Bakker’s book the Dinosaur Heresies and he took some of the character from Bob as well. And then when Stephen Spielberg made the movie, he decided to just use my character. Who knows why; I’m just glad the character didn’t get eaten.
SABRINA: That’s true.
JACK HORNER: Working on the movie, I just got a call one day from Stephen Spielberg and he asked me if I wanted to work on Jurassic Park with him. Hard to say no.
SABRINA: So what was involved? What did you do in the movie?
JACK HORNER: Well he was looking for someone to tell him what was wrong with the dinosaurs, and also he wanted someone to check the work with the model makers, stand-ins, crew and so forth. And ILM to make sure that the dinosaur was accurate morphologically as they could be, but then if he was going to make actors out of them he was going to make them do things that they wouldn’t normally do. My job was that just to make sure that, you know, that there weren’t any really bad mistakes. And you know, I think we picked out most of those. But you know obviously some of the dinosaurs are bigger than they should be, and some are smaller than they ought to be, and that’s all just artistic license.
SABRINA: What were some of the biggest, I guess, mistakes that you had to correct?
JACK HORNER: Well the biggest one is in Jurassic Park one when the raptors come into the kitchen, they were looking like going to have them wave their tongues around like snakes do. And we know that dinosaurs didn’t have a Jacobson’s organ, they couldn’t, they wouldn’t have done that. But I was able to get that out of it, but he still needed something to happen for that short period of time. And so we decided on the scene where they come through the door, and one of the raptors snorts and it fogs up the window. But basically we’d taken away the reptilian look and the reptilian deal to them, and given them warm-bloodedness.
SABRINA: I know you also worked on Jurassic World, and I read an article where you said you didn’t think andominous rex was crazy enough. So what’s something you’d like to see in andominous rex?
JACK HORNER: Well, I’m not sure what you read but I was very much involved in andominous rex, and it has most of the characteristics that I wanted. I mostly wanted it to camouflage itself using the cuttlefish genes, and I wanted it to be white. We started with terozynosaurus, the big arms of Therizinosaurus, and I didn’t think, you know, since it camouflaged itself so well and has these big claws on it, I didn’t think it needed to really run very fast. But, you know, it’s a Jurassic Park movie and scenes are for runners.
SABRINA: Do you have a favorite Jurassic Park, Jurassic World movie?
JACK HORNER: Do I have a favorite?
JACK HORNER: Well I really don’t know what’s best, but I’d say Jurassic World turned out really well. I did most of my work on Jurassic Park 3 at the […] (00:03:45), you know, most of the aspects of three. But you know, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World came out okay too. And you know, I did a cameo on that one so…
SABRINA: You did a cameo in Jurassic World?
JACK HORNER: Yep.
SABRINA: Oh can you tell us where so when we see it again?
JACK HORNER: Up on the raptor pen.
SABRINA: Oh okay, that’s really cool.
GARRET: That is cool. So in Jurassic Park 3 were you really involved because of all the Spinosaurus stuff, or what were you working on in that one?
JACK HORNER: Well, Joe Johnston was the director and there was no book for it, so we had to invent the story and I helped a lot with the story and then did a lot of stuff on the set. And then ya, just worked really closely with Joe and the editors and Irwin. I had just, you know, basically just worked on every aspect of the movie except […] (00:04:40) of it.
GARRET: Yeah it’s really neat, you mentioned that you got to work with the animatronics in the first movie. We’ve seen a lot of stuff on the different animatronics, especially the big T-rex, it looks like that would have been a lot of fun.
JACK HORNER: Yeah all of that animatronics were really great. In Jurassic Park 3 we had the largest animatronic ever, and that was the spinosaur animatronic. In Jurassic World, you know, I kinda worked on Jurassic World but it was almost all electronic, because they had no animatronics. When I was working on-set with all the other movies I was on set every time there was an animatronic dinosaur on set. So in Jurassic World they really aren’t any animatronic dinosaurs, although there are, they do use actors for their raptors in the pen.
SABRINA: How did you first become interested in dinosaurs?
JACK HORNER: I was born this way. I’m pretty sure that’s the answer.
SABRINA: That’s a good one.
GARRET: I can relate to that.
SABRINA: Can you talk a little bit about your discovery, the first big discovery with the nesting site?
JACK HORNER: First off, in 1977 I went back to the place where I found my first dinosaur bone when I was eight years old. And I found an egg, a dinosaur egg, and that was in the Two Medicine formation, and then in 1978 when I come back up to Montana from Princeton to look for dinosaurs, I was actually looking for eggs and babies, juveniles, stuff like that. And no one’s really done that before, so I’d gone back to the place I got the egg and then I was looking for some places that we had found that juvenile dinosaurs had been found. Not babies, but you know, littler ones. And really didn’t find anything, and then went to one of our sites in Northern Montana in the […] (00:06:34) formation, and ran into a guy named Bill Clemens from Berkeley. And he had just gotten word from the state of Montana that some lady in Dinah, Montana was looking for someone to identify a large dinosaur skeleton that she had found. And so I volunteered to go and look at it, and so went over there, identified the big dinosaur in her rock shop and some other stuff, and as I was leaving she said oh by the way, do you know what these little bones are? And so I had a look at them and they were baby dinosaur bones. And I was very excited, told her that they were very important, and I asked if she could show me where they came from. About a week later or so she drove me out to the site, and it was a mound with thousands of baby dinosaur bones covering the surface. And my friend Bob Makela and I, we excavated the site over the next few days and we found the remains of fifteen three foot long, one meter long baby duckbill dinosaurs in a bowl-shaped depression. I mean there was no question it was a nest, and there were fifteen babies in it. Just recently they actually, during some screening on the original site found the remains of two more. So there’s actually at least seventeen babies in the nest. And then just a few months after that I had a collector out there looking in the same area, and she found a second nest with babies in it. And so that started a yearly expedition to that area and we found dinosaur eggs and embryos and babies, a gigantic herd of miasaurs, just everything you could ever imagine.
SABRINA: Were the eggs all miasaurs or were there other dinosaurs mixed in as well?
JACK HORNER: They have found at least four species of dinosaur eggs. Maiasaura is one of them that we find on the miasaur nesting ground. We also find Troodon eggs, therapod little meat eater Troodon. And also find eggs of some other meat eating dinosaur that we haven’t found digging up embryos we’ve been able to identify yet, but we do have skeletons of […](00:08:55) out there as well. So it could very well be […] (00:09:00) eggs. And then we also have some small eggs. They might even be bird, we’re not sure yet. We just don’t know what they are, because we don’t have any embryos. None at all. So we have four species at least.
GARRET: But they’re all in the same bowls, the same nest?
JACK HORNER: No, no they’re all on different horizons even. We find Troodons and potential […] (00:09:24) eggs all together, not in the same nest but in the same nesting ground. Then the Maisaura eggs are only found in the Maisaura nesting grounds where we found the babies before. And then the little eggs that we find, we just find occasionally and they’re pretty randomly scattered around different areas. Area of probably what, area where all the babies have come from and all the troodon eggs and all this stuff is about one square mile. A very small area of about one and a half kilometers and about a hundred meters thick, vertically. Stratographically.
SABRINA: This discovery, since it was pretty early on, we saw one of your TED Talks and it was like where did all the baby dinosaurs go, and did that kind of spark an interest in looking for the babies and the younger dinosaurs?
JACK HORNER: Well the TED Talk; that was a much later thing. After I found the babies and had a number of juveniles, and started finding juvenile skulls, began realizing that the juvenile skulls were you know really different than the adults. And so about fifteen years ago I started really sort of concentrating on progeny, and looking at growth and progeny. So looking at how bones grow and relating that to the ontogenetic age of dinosaurs, and seeing what was going on with them, and discovered that a lot of dinosaurs that people had named in the past were actually just juveniles of some other animal. And then started to sort of tying them all together. Looking at formations, looking at rock units where say a couple of different dinosaurs, it looked like they were really closely related, and looking at those ontogenetically, looking at their bone structure and seeing if one of them represented a juvenile of the other. And then I started finding quite a few things like that.
SABRINA: I know that that has led to some controversy, especially with like Torosaurus versus Triceratops. We actually, we had at least one person come onto our podcast and talk about that. But what kind of reaction have you gotten from your peers on this?
JACK HORNER: Well you know, there are people that think it makes sense, and some that think it doesn’t make sense, and you know it’s certainly testable. I mean just find a juvenile Torosaurus. And no one has found one. You know, we know what the antagony of the different features looks like, so basically you know, we know how the different epiossifications change shape, and so we know what a mature, for instance, one of the little epiossifications on the edge of the frill, we know when there’s juvenile or even sub-adult, and all of the torosaurs that have been found have the adult morphology of Triceratops. So until someone finds a juvenile or sub-adult Torosaurus, it’s still the most parsimonious explanation.
SABRINA: So your current research is on dinosaur growth and behavior. Can you talk about what you’ve been doing, I guess, recently?
JACK HORNER: Well that’s, we’re still, you know that really is, you know we’re looking at the different aspects of growth and behavior by using histology to sort of ground truth our hypothesis. So if we think that one taxa might be the juvenile or adult of a different tacton then, you know, we cut them open and look inside and see if that’s the potential. So we’re doing that with a lot of different taxa right now. Even looking at a variety of distant genetic sequences of maybe different sauropods. Sauropods are a mess if anyone knows about sauropods, and every time somebody finds one they name a new one. So we’re trying to at least figure out the ontogenetic sequences of different parts of sauropods so that people can at least start evaluating them. But we’re doing that with all the dinosaurs. We’re looking at something that change late in ontogeny, and most of them are cranial. Most of them are these cranial display features, but sometimes we find them also in, you know, post-cranial skeleton as well. So you know that’s just, just a matter of kind of identifying the potential features that change either isometrically or alometrically, and just see if we can figure out the growth sequence of some of these dinosaurs.
SABRINA: Since you brought up sauropods can I just get your thoughts on the whole Brontosaurus, everything that’s gone on with Brontosaurus?
JACK HORNER: Yeah, you know, it’s… they didn’t really present enough evidence to synonymize in my opinion, but I mean to keep them separate. You know that’s, again it’s, you know, for some reason people just really like having lots of taxa.
GARRET: Ya because I think a lot of their explanation was well it’s just as different as other ones that are named differently, but that doesn’t really approach the question of should those other ones have been named as different dinosaurs in the first place.
JACK HORNER: Exactly, exactly right. Paleontologists should be right now in the business of trying to you know minimize the, I mean, you know really, you know evaluate them objectively rather than just trying to make a new taxa.
GARRET: You helped discover the T-rex fossil in 2005 that they ended up calling B-rex. Can you tell us some things about that discovery and the soft tissue and all that good stuff that came out of it?
JACK HORNER: B-rex was, well, B-rex was one of the five T-rexes we found in 2000. And it was discovered by Bob Herman, my chief repairator. And basically we found, he found another partial sticking out of the hillside, and when we got up close to it we found three other bones, vertebrae, but it was under, you know it was under thirty meters of rock. So it required a huge excavation. But the closest we could get to it was about a mile and a half by boat. We could get to about a mile and a half from it by boat, but there were no roads or anything into it, so we had a helicopter. Brought everything in and out by helicopter and spent several months excavating the thing, and put twelve of the best excavators I’ve ever had on the site, and they excavated down to it. It turned out to have a pretty nice skull, hind legs and a few vertebrae and a few ribs and some other things, but it wasn’t a very complete T-rex and it’s not a very big T-rex. But we had one piece that was too big for the helicopter to manage because it had both hind legs in it. And so we had to split the […] (00:16:41) in two, which you know we do on occasion. But this time we split it open and there were some unusual bone material inside the femur, which we shipped off to Mary Schweitzer, one of my former doctoral students who studies internal structures of bones. And she was able to identify the weird looking stuff as nebulary tissue, which meant that B-rex was female, a pregnant female. And then when she decalcified the bones, out popped blood vessels and cells, osteocytes, and then later from those structures she was also able to get the protein collagen and elastin. Turned out to be a pretty good specimen.
GARRET: In your book you mentioned that you had some hope that maybe we’d look inside other bones and find similar clues and potentially other soft tissue and you know more detail than we previously thought we could get out of bones.
JACK HORNER: Yeah we got a lot of stuff, but […] (00:17:45) after that then ship it off to North Carolina where Mary was. We thought maybe it was breaking, that some of the material was breaking down in the atmosphere. So they built a laboratory, a clean lab in the back of an eighteen wheeler trailer, and actually took the trailer, the laboratory through the field when we had another specimen to excavate that was in very good condition and also buried pretty deep. There was a duckbill dinosaur, a Brachiosaurus in excellent condition. And so we took the lab out there and we took some extractions and we got much better soft tissues out of it. The protein and you know originally we were looking for DNA, and in neither case did we ever find DNA. We think it’s there, we stained for DNA and we get positive results, but we haven’t been able to find it. It’s suggesting it’s a pretty tiny fragments. But we’re still, we’ll […] (00:18:46) one of these days.
SABRINA: Just to bring up a T-rex that you have found that was larger than Sue, it was found with what five other T-rexes so they were possibly moving in a pack when they died. Can you talk about that find and what light it sheds on T-rex behavior?
JACK HORNER: Well let me just tie that size on T-rex, I mean people are always gonna find new, bigger dinosaurs because if you think about it, in any population it’s really hard, if you just go and randomly collect ten human beings off the street, you know downtown on a Saturday afternoon, the chances of getting the oldest one is pretty low. I mean it’s almost zero. And one of the things we know about dinosaurs is that they didn’t grow throughout their life. They do have a stopping point. But very few of them actually make it to that point. So most of them are dying before they reach a skeletal maturity. And every T-rex we’ve found so far is still growing. So we don’t have any T-rex yet that shows skeletal maturity. And that includes Sue, and it includes the big one that we have as well. So a bigger T-rex doesn’t mean anything really, just like a bigger anything you know, a bigger sauropod doesn’t mean anything, and a bigger… and it’s just you know, it’s interesting just you know from a very general point of view, but if you understand that dinosaurs, that most dinosaurs are sub-adults or are still growing, it doesn’t really mean anything.
GARRET: So you were talking a little bit about DNA in the fossil finds and it immediately reminded me of how you say well we already have the DNA basically in our modern birds, and your whole chickenasaurus project, that how to build a dinosaur book is based a lot around. What inspired you to start working on that?
JACK HORNER: I don’t know, you couldn’t get any DNA out of dinosaurs, so… we know birds are dinosaurs, and therefore we have dinosaurs. But it’s always interested me that birds have evolved, they have changed so much from their dinosaurian origins. But even within birds themselves I mean modern birds are very different than […] (00:21:09), and it’s clear that you know the changes that they went through are, the potential of their genetics, the genetic pathways being still in the birds is there. So it’s the alternative to using DNA to make a dinosaur. If you wanna try to bring a dinosaur back which, you know, was sort of Michael Crichton’s story in Jurassic Park, but you don’t have DNA then you have to come up with a different project. And that was sort of the impetus of the dino-chicken project. It was, you know, we had, Barry Sweitzer and I, he actually had an NSF grant to try to extract DNA from a dinosaur in 93 when Jurassic Park came out. And of course we didn’t, we weren’t able to find it but I sort of took that on as a project to see if we could, see if we could come up with a way to make a dinosaur. And retro-engineering of birds seems like a pretty good way to do it. And if you’ve been keeping up with, you know, some of the things going on we certainly know that it’s possible. We know how to put teeth back in the bird genetically, and we now know how to change the whole face of a bird and bring it back to the dinosaur looking head. And you know we’re working on the tail now and we’re discovering that there are a lot of genetic pathways that take out the tail completely in very short, you know, there’s just, there are some genetic pathways that will take the whole tail out all at once, but it’s not an evolutionary trend. But it could have happened very quickly. And the hands are sort of the things that I mean the fusion of the hand to make the wing is another thing that is very very simple. The genetic pathway seems to be something that can happen very quickly.
GARRET: Aside from the hand, tail, teeth, beak slash snout, is there anything else? I guess maybe there’s the toe, is it the hallux that changed? What else would you want to go after next in terms of reverse-engineering it?
JACK HORNER: Well you know if you take a bird, and you change its mouth and you give it teeth, and give her a long tail and give it hands and arms instead of wings, about the only thing left to do is to knock out the sternum, right? I mean that is really all that’s left, and once you do that you have an animal that looks for all the world like any little saurustian dinosaur.
GARRET: I wonder how tricky the sternum would be. It sounds to me like it would be difficult but I would have thought making a tail would be difficult too, so…
JACK HORNER: Well, I suspect the sternum will be relatively simple. You know we, there are, so you know all about knock-out genes, right? So we knock out some genes and shorten the whole mouth, right? Or we can knock out a couple of the, there are some notch genes we can knock out, take out the whole arm, the humorus, the ulna and the radius, leaving a hand attached to the scapula. The notion of taking out the sternum doesn’t seem very complicated. When you know that one gene will take out the humorus and the ulna and the radius.
SABRINA: So how long do you think it’ll take to completely reverse engineer?
JACK HORNER: There’s just no way to predict a time, because of the truest… Matthew Harris who worked on the […] (00:24:41) chicken to get the teeth, it took him just a few months to figure that out. It took seven years to figure out the snout beak thing. I have predicted the total of ten years for the tail, and we’re five years into it already and we’re, you know, seems like it’s getting closer. So I’m still guessing that it won’t be more than five more years at the most before we figure the tail out, and the hands I think someone else is gonna get pretty short […](00:25:11) as well. Because there’s a couple of labs working on it now. Then it’s a matter of luck. If we knew where the genes were then obviously we would do it, but we have to identify them. And some of them are atavistic genes, some of them are actually you know genes that the animal carries, and some of them are genetic pathways that we have to sort of reinvent. So you know, it’s like the tooth gene. I mean we can put a, we can get a first generation tooth to grow in the bird, but it won’t have enamel because birds have lost their enamel gene. Which means we’ll have to add it transgenically. Which you know is, transgenics is fine. It won’t be the exact genetic pathways that, you know, it won’t be a historical thing. But the idea is to make a dinosaur, then you know, Indominus Rex should be just as much a dinosaur as anything else, right?
SABRINA: About how many people are working on this?
JACK HORNER: Well that’s a good question. When I started the project everybody thought it was just the wackiest idea, and people when I tried to get post-docs to work on it, there were people that told the post-docs, the potential post-docs that it would kill their career. I mean it just, everybody just thought it was the craziest idea. And now we’ve got, you know, the […] (00:26:29) lab at Harvard working on it, and you know, everybody in the country is just trying to get a piece of the action there. At least five laboratories in North America are working on it. But, you know, I think that’s probably true with most projects, right? Most projects people think are a little wacky to begin with.
SABRINA: Going into your writing, you’ve written eight books so far, but do you plan on writing more in the future?
JACK HORNER: I’ve got two that are just about finished. One that’s really on ontogeny and growth, growing dinosaurs, and then I’ve got another one that’s more about dyslexia and some of the transient, physio dyslexia, more interest, more building some confidence to get through school so they can get onto the projects in the rest of their life.
SABRINA: Has that affected at all being a paleontologist, being dyslexic, or it doesn’t really…
JACK HORNER: Oh I think dyslexia helps… dyslexia is just a different way of thinking. We dyslexics are very spacial, and studying bones, you know, or studying geology even, that helps if you’re special. I think it’s very useful. I think dyslexics excel in paleontology and geological fields. We’re just not very good at reading.
GARRET: Yeah some of those words are pretty difficult…
JACK HORNER: Yeah, it’s just a different way of thinking about stuff.
SABRINA: Do you have a favorite dinosaur?
JACK HORNER: No, not really. I like Maisaura because we have so many of them. I […] (00:28:03) because we have so many bones. But any dinosaurs I can get a lot of I like. If I have their eggs and their embryos, juveniles and sub-adults and adults, that’s a dinosaur I really like. Obviously we can do more with them than we can with any other dinosaur.
SABRINA: So what’s on your wish list of finds?
JACK HORNER: I don’t know that I have anything on my wish list. I just like to think that I’m open minded enough that when I go to the field I won’t miss anything.
SABRINA: Just one last question: what advice would you give to budding paleontologists or dinosaur enthusiasts?
JACK HORNER: Follow your dreams. That’s all there is to it. You know, just read up all they can on things about dinosaurs and geology and mathematics and you know, anything useful, but then spend a lot of time, spend more time thinking about it than reading about it.
SABRINA: Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with us.
JACK HORNER: You’re very welcome.