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New theory on origin of birds: Enlarged skeletal muscles

Date:
July 2, 2011
Source:
New York Medical College
Summary:
A new theory of the origin of birds, traditionally believed to be driven by the evolution of flight, is now being credited to the emergence of enlarged skeletal muscles in birds. Their upright two-leggedness, he says, led to the opportunity for other adaptive changes like flying or swimming.

Ostriches in South Africa's Kruger National Park. A developmental biologist is proposing a new theory of the origin of birds, which traditionally has been thought to be driven by the evolution of flight. The new theory credits the emergence of enlarged skeletal muscles as the basis for their upright two-leggedness, which led to the opportunity for other adaptive changes like flying or swimming.
Credit: © David Garry / Fotolia

A developmental biologist at New York Medical College is proposing a new theory of the origin of birds, which traditionally has been thought to be driven by the evolution of flight. Instead, Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D., credits the emergence of enlarged skeletal muscles as the basis for their upright two-leggedness, which led to the opportunity for other adaptive changes like flying or swimming. And it is all based on the loss of a gene that is critical to the ability of other warm-blooded animals to generate heat for survival.

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Dr. Newman, a professor of cell biology and anatomy, studies the diversity of life and how it got that way. His research has always centered on bird development, though this current study, "Thermogenesis, muscle hyperplasia, and the origin of birds," also draws from paleontology, genetics, and the physiology of fat.

Dr. Newman draws on earlier work from his laboratory that provided evidence for the loss, in the common dinosaur ancestors of birds and lizards, of the gene for uncoupling protein-1 (UCP1). The product of this gene is essential for the ability of "brown fat," tissue that protects newborns of mammals from hypothermia, to generate heat. In birds, heat generation is mainly a function of skeletal muscles.

"Unlike the scenario in which the evolution of flight is the driving force for the origin of birds, the muscle expansion theory does not require functionally operative intermediates in the transition to flight, swimming, or winglessness, nor does it require that all modern flightless birds, such as ostriches and penguins, had flying ancestors. It does suggest that the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs may have been related to a failure to evolve compensatory heat-generating mechanisms in face of the loss of UCP1," says the scientist


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by New York Medical College. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Stuart A. Newman. Thermogenesis, muscle hyperplasia, and the origin of birds. BioEssays, 2011; DOI: 10.1002/bies.201100061
  2. Nadejda V Mezentseva, Jaliya S Kumaratilake, Stuart A Newman. The brown adipocyte differentiation pathway in birds: An evolutionary road not taken. BMC Biology, 2008; 6 (1): 17 DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-6-17

Cite This Page:

New York Medical College. "New theory on origin of birds: Enlarged skeletal muscles." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110622115317.htm>.
New York Medical College. (2011, July 2). New theory on origin of birds: Enlarged skeletal muscles. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110622115317.htm
New York Medical College. "New theory on origin of birds: Enlarged skeletal muscles." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110622115317.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

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