Unicorns are the stuff of legend and fiction. But one biologist in the early 20th Century took it upon himself to make them a reality.
It’s easy to judge a biological experiment like this as someone “playing doctor Frankenstein,” and to an extent that might be the case. In 1933, Dr. William Franklin Dove, an American biologist working with the University of Maine, had a theory about the way horns formed in cattle and other animals.
Instead of developing as part of the animal’s skeleton, he reasoned, horns might actually form separately from the skull and grow into them as the animal develops further. Unlike today, where biologists possessed of such notions would set off working on computer models and embryological simulations, Dove decided that he would test his theory on a day-old bull calf.
It proved a long-standing theory about horn development
He performed an operation where he cut out the still-developing horns from either side of the animal’s skull, and fashioned them in such a way that they would fit together. He then replaced the newly formed ‘unicorn’ to the centre of the bull’s skull, completing the procedure.
Would this sort of thing fly in today’s world?
This sort of thing seems pretty daring in today’s terms, but the experiment ended up proving Dove right. He had created an artificial unicorn – be it not one based on a horse: