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More Fowl Genetics: The Origins of the Chicken

By November 25, 2012

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While most of us in the United Stated spent a lot of time contemplating the turkey last week, the chicken is, of course, the most important domesticated fowl. As a matter of fact, it is the world's most common bird. Given its esteemed status, it may be surprising that there is not a lot known about it's domestication.

As opposed to the domesticated turkey's New World origins, the domesticated chicken originated on the other side of the world in Southern Asia a few thousand years earlier, when people started taming and raising the red junglefowl. However, as Andrew Lawler in Science this week points out, little is known about how this wild bird evolved into the domesticated chicken.

The traditional view, first theorized by Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus, is that the red junglefowl was domesticated on Indian subcontinent. Recent genetics, though, suggests there were actually multiple additional centers of domestication, including Southern China, Southeast Asia, and possibly even Indonesia. Interestingly, turkey domestication also seems to have occurred at multiple locations a few thousand years later in North and Central America.

As Andrew Lawler notes in a podcast interview about the article, "given the chicken's critical role in world's food supply, it is important to understand the genetic diversity from related fowl and ancestors."  He pointed out the importance of efforts by researchers such as Jianlin Han, who is gathering samples from red junglefowl from all over Vietnam, Pakistan, South China, and other locales. Andrew noted that this research, "Gets at the history of the chicken while providing a genetic database for the future." He emphasized that, "A lot of diversity [of the chicken] is going away as a result of deforestation and cross-breeding in the third world," so this genetic information may be needed to increase diversity of the chicken stock in the future.

You can listen to the interview with Andrew Lawler, at the Science podcast website.

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