Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient DNA: Barnyard chickens living just a few hundred years ago looked far different from today's chickens

Date:
April 18, 2014
Source:
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Summary:
Ancient DNA adds a twist to the story of how barnyard chickens came to be. Analyzing DNA from the bones of chickens that lived 200-2,300 years ago in Europe, researchers report that some of the traits we associate with modern domestic chickens -- such as their yellowish skin -- only became widespread in the last 500 years, much more recently than previously thought.

Red junglefowl.
Credit: panuruangjan / Fotolij

Ancient DNA adds a twist to the story of how barnyard chickens came to be, finds a study to be published April 21 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Analyzing DNA from the bones of chickens that lived 200-2300 years ago in Europe, researchers report that just a few hundred years ago domestic chickens may have looked far different from the chickens we know today.

The results suggest that some of the traits we associate with modern domestic chickens -- such as their yellowish skin -- only became widespread in the last 500 years, much more recently than previously thought.

"It's a blink of an eye from an evolutionary perspective," said co-author Greger Larson at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

The study is part of a larger field of research that aims to understand when, where and how humans turned wild plants and animals into the crops, pets and livestock we know today.

Generally, any mutations that are widespread in domestic plants and animals but absent from their wild relatives are assumed to have played a key role in the process, spreading as people and their livestock moved across the globe. But a growing number of ancient DNA studies tell a different tale.

Chickens are descended from a wild bird called the Red Junglefowl that humans started raising roughly 4,000-5,000 years ago in South Asia. To pinpoint the genetic changes that transformed this shy, wild bird into the chickens we know today, researchers analyzed DNA from the skeletal remains of 81 chickens retrieved from a dozen archeological sites across Europe dating from 200 to 2,300 years old.

The researchers focused on two genes known to differ between domestic chickens and their wild counterparts: a gene associated with yellow skin color, called BCDO2, and a gene involved in thyroid hormone production, called TSHR.

Though the exact function of TSHR is unknown, it may be linked to the domestic chicken's ability to lay eggs year-round -- a trait that Red Junglefowl and other wild birds don't have.

When the team compared the ancient sequences to the DNA of modern chickens, only one of the ancient chickens had the yellow skin so common in chickens today. Similarly, less than half of the ancient chickens had the version of the TSHR gene found worldwide in modern chickens.

The results suggest that these traits only became widespread within the last 500 years -- thousands of years after the first barnyard chickens came to be. "Just because a plant or animal trait is common today doesn't mean that it was bred into them from the beginning," Larson said.

"It demonstrates that the pets and livestock we know today -- dogs, chickens, horses, cows -- are probably radically different from the ones our great-great-grandparents knew," he added.

"…They are subjected to the whim of human fancy and control, [so] radical change in the way they look can be achieved in very few generations."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Flink, L., et al. Establishing the validity of domestication genes using DNA from ancient chickens. PNAS, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1308939110

Cite This Page:

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "Ancient DNA: Barnyard chickens living just a few hundred years ago looked far different from today's chickens." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140418141123.htm>.
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). (2014, April 18). Ancient DNA: Barnyard chickens living just a few hundred years ago looked far different from today's chickens. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140418141123.htm
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "Ancient DNA: Barnyard chickens living just a few hundred years ago looked far different from today's chickens." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140418141123.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Rare Lion Cubs Make Debut at Belgrade Zoo

Raw: Rare Lion Cubs Make Debut at Belgrade Zoo

AP (Oct. 17, 2014) Two white lion cubs were born in Belgrade zoo three weeks ago. White lions are a rare mutation of a species found in South Africa and some cultures consider them divine. (Oct. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sweet Times for Hard Cider Makers

Sweet Times for Hard Cider Makers

AP (Oct. 16, 2014) With hard cider making a hardcore comeback across the country, craft makers are trying to keep up with demand and apple growers are tapping a juicy new revenue stream. (Oct. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Meet Garfi the Angry Cat

Meet Garfi the Angry Cat

Buzz60 (Oct. 16, 2014) Garfi is one frowny, feisty feline - downright angry! Ko Im (@koimtv) introduces us to the latest animal celebrity taking over the Internet. You can follow more of Garfi's adventures on Twitter (@MeetGarfi) and Facebook (Garfi). Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins