Genetic research is developing at such a pace that the technology that would allow us to engineer dinosaur-like pets could already exist. Professor Jack Horner, the palaeontologist who consulted on the Jurassic Park films, says gene-manipulation techniques we already use could be used to engineer a dinosaur-chicken hybrid.
It is largely now accepted that birds evolved from dinosaurs, which had started developing feathers to keep warm by the later Jurassic period. In fact, chickens are believed to be the closest living relatives of dinosaurs. As Horner put it in a 2011 TED Talk: "Birds are living dinosaurs – we actually classify them as 'avian dinosaurs'."
Gene-editing has already been used to create pets such as micro-pigs, guaranteeing animals no bigger than a large rabbit. Similar techniques are also being used to test, for instance, cures to blindness in rats and to treat inherited diseases.
"We can think up the kinds of animals that we might want, and come up with ways to make them," Horner told The Times in an interview.
In May, he said: "From a quantitative point of view, we're 50% there" to engineering a dinosaur by modifying chickens. Four major changes to modern chickens are needed, he believes. They would need teeth, a long tail, a snout instead of a beak, and to have their wings changed back into arms and hands.
In 2015, researchers managed to revert chicken's beaks into dinosaur-like snouts in the embryo, after seven years of trying.
Meanwhile, the winners of 2015's Ig Nobel Prize for biology – which rewards serious scientific research into unusual topics – showed chickens walked differently if they were made to wear fake dinosaur tails. This research demonstrated the gradual changes in gait that came about as therapod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosauruses and Velociraptors evolved into modern birds.
Horner believes the other changes, including actually growing a tail on a chicken embryo, can be achieved, in part through clever laboratory methods, and in part through the age-old technique of selection – albeit in a much-accelerated fashion.
Even though the tools might be there, Horner accepts a gene-engineered dinosaur chicken is not going to be easy to make. "This dino-chicken project — we can liken it to the moon project," he told Live Science. "We know we can do it; it's just there are some huge hurdles."