ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2012) — No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a succulent roasted turkey. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that consumers cook and eat more than 45 million turkeys every Thanksgiving. Very few Americans, however, know much about the difference between their gravy-smothered poultry and the poultry that earlier generations of Americans ate to celebrate the holiday.
"Ancient turkeys weren't your Butterball," said Rob Fleischer, head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics. "We set out to compare the genetic diversity of the domestic turkeys we eat today with that of the ancestral wild turkey from South Mexico. Some of what we found surprised us."
What an SCBI scientist and collaborators found was that the domestic turkey that ends up on the dinner table exhibits less genetic variation than not only its ancestral wild counterparts, which were first domesticated in 800 B.C., but also than other livestock breeds, such as domestic pigs or chickens. The genetic traits affected by the variation are body size and breast muscle development -- features that can help determine the likelihood of a consumer buying a turkey. The results of the study were recently published in BMC Genomics.