Edinburgh scientists have discovered that one of the poultry world’s most curious specimens (the Transylvanian naked neck chicken) developed its defining feature because of a complex genetic mutation.
Scientists can now explain why one of the poultry world’s most curious specimens has developed such a distinctive look.
With a head like a turkey and a body resembling that of a chicken, the Transylvanian naked neck chicken developed its defining feature because of a complex genetic mutation.
Researchers at The Roslin Institute at The University of Edinburgh found that a vitamin A-derived substance produced around the bird’s neck enhanced the effects of the genetic mutation. This causes a protein – BMP12 – to be produced, suppressing feather growth.
Researchers analysed DNA samples from naked neck chickens in Mexico, France and Hungary to find the genetic mutation. Skin samples from embryonic chickens were also analysed using complex mathematical modelling to identify the genetic trigger.
Denis Headon, who led the research, said: “Not only does this help our understanding of developmental biology and give insight into how different breeds have evolved but it could have practical implications for helping poultry production in hot countries including those in the developing world.”
According to Dr Headon, chickens with naked necks are much better equipped to withstand the heat.
The discovery also has implications for understanding how birds (including vultures) evolved to have featherless necks due to their metabolism of vitamin A selectively in neck skin.
- The research, published in the journal PLoS Biology, was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Images courtesy The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh