As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Pigeon DNA gives up fancy secrets

By Jonathan Amos
They may not be everybody's favourite, but pigeons have now joined that elite club of animals to have had their DNA laid bare by researchers.

A team from the US, Denmark and China reports the sequencing of the genome of the rock pigeon (Columba livia) in this week's Science magazine.

It has allowed the origins of some of the roughly 350 breeds to be traced.

The researchers have even managed to pinpoint the gene responsible for the head-crests seen in many fancy birds.

This gene, known as EphB2, controls whether the head and neck feathers on a bird turn upwards to create the ostentatious displays or downwards to maintain a line of smooth plumage.

It is a single mutation, or error, in EphB2 that turns the crest on.

By analysing the DNA around the gene, the scientists have been able to show this feather feature, much prized by pigeon "fanciers", to have evolved just the once. It was then spread through the various bird populations by breeders who wanted to see it in their own animals.


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