Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Simple explanation for complex pattern of feather development


Biologists testing a mathematical model of the mechanism birds use to control the growth of complex feathers found that plumed feather structures involve the coordination of at least two genes that activate and that inhibit barb growth.

"Understanding these mechanisms of feather growth gives a whole new perspective on the unique beauty of feathers," said Richard Prum, senior author on the study. Prum is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, and Curator of Ornithology and Vertebrate Zoology at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

An eclectic team of biologists used a combination of mathematical and molecular methods to reveal some of the secrets of branched feather growth, and propose how the unique complexity of feathers may have evolved. Ornithologist Prum led a team including anatomists Matthew Harris and John Fallon at the University of Wisconsin, statistician Scott Williamson at Cornell and Hans Meinhardt at the Max Plank Institute.

Their findings provide the best experimental evidence for a classical theory for growth of complex biological structures. In the 1950’s, Alan Turing, mathematician, pioneering computer scientist and code-breaker, proposed that repeated patterns could emerge through the interactions among chemical morphogens or molecules that cause things to develop -- an activator that makes things happen, and an inhibitor that suppresses the activator.

To test the model in feathers, Harris forced expression of the activator, Shh, or the inhibitor, Bmp2, in the skin of six-day old chick embryos by injecting them with a retrovirus. The results were seen in localized patches and demonstrated that a simple relationship between developmental genes could be the basis for formation of feather structures. This was the first documentation, in any plant or animal, that signaling molecules in development can actually behave as envisioned by Turing 50 years ago.

This work provides a key to some of these most basic questions of biology. The findings also indicate that more complex shafted feathers evolved from the simpler downy tufts by the addition of new players to the original activator-inhibitor pair. Prum is now following up on several clues in the search for these other molecular signals.

Janet Rettig Emanuel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>