The researchers mapped the genes that give most domesticated chickens yellow legs and found to their surprise that this genetic heredity derives from a closely related species, the grey jungle fowl. The study is being published today in the Web edition of PLoS Genetics.
“Our studies show that even though most of the genes in domesticated fowls come from the red jungle fowl, at least one other species must have contributed, specifically the grey jungle fowl,” says Jonas Eriksson, a doctoral student at Uppsala University.
It is most likely the case that the grey jungle fowl was crossed with an early form of the domesticated chicken. The genes for yellow skin are spread among billions of domesticated chickens around the world. Darwin’s studies of domesticated animals were of key importance to his theory of evolution, and he also explained the wild origins of domesticated animals.
“What’s ironic is that Darwin thought that more than one wild species had contributed to the development of the dog, but that the chicken came from only one wild species, the red jungle fowl. Now it turns out that it’s just the opposite way around,” says Greger Larson, a researcher at Uppsala University and Durham University in England.
The yellow leg color is a result of fodder: the more yellow carotenoids there are in the feed, the yellower the legs. The gene that these researchers have now identified codes for an enzyme that breaks down carotenoids and releases vitamin A. This gene is shut down in skin but fully active in other tissues in chickens with yellow legs. The consequence is that yellow carotenoids are stored in the skin in these chickens. This is called a regulatory mutation since the coding sequence of the gene is intact, but its regulation is modified.
“Our study is a clear example of the importance of regulatory mutations in the course of evolution. What we don’t know is why humans bred this characteristic. Maybe chickens with bright yellow legs were seen as being healthier or more fertile than other chickens, or were we simply charmed by their distinct appearance?” wonders Professor Leif Andersson, who directed the project.
The scientists believe that the same gene may well be of significance in explaining the pink color of the flamingo, the yellow leg color of many birds of prey, and the reddish meat of the salmon. These characteristics are all caused by carotenoids. The gene may also influence the skin color of humans to some extent.
Anneli Waara | alfa
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Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
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Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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