Human-Chicken Interactions project gets off the ground


Modern chickens are descended primarily from the red junglefowl

The meat and eggs of domestic chickens are a source of protein for billions. Yet how and when the birds were domesticated remains a mystery. The answers to these questions could reveal a wealth of information about the genetics of domestication, as well as human behaviour, and how we can improve our husbandry of the birds.

In a bid to learn more about the chicken and its lineage, the UK government is funding a £1.94-million (US$3.3-million) effort to determine how the chicken went from being a wild fowl roaming the jungles of southeast Asia several thousand years ago to one of the world’s most abundant domesticated animals. The Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human–Chicken Interactions project — ‘Chicken Coop’ for short — will examine human history from the perspective of the fowl…

But no domestic animal has been moulded and remoulded by humans as extensively as chickens, says Greger Larson, an evolutionary geneticist. The animals have been bred for eating, egg-laying and fighting. And in the case of one particularly vocal breed, the creatures have even been strapped to the masts of Polynesian boats to act as foghorns. “Chickens are polymaths,” he says…

Because…mutations are so common in contemporary chickens, Larson’s team and others assumed that humans influenced these traits through selective breeding early in the course of domestication. But DNA from chickens recovered at archaeological sites across Europe, spanning the period from around 280 bc to ad 1800, has turned that idea on its head. In an analysis published last month, Larson’s team reported that none of 25 ancient chickens would have had yellow legs, and that just 8 out of 44 birds carried two copies of the TSHR variant…universal in modern breeds. So even 200 years ago, chickens may have been very different from those we know today.

With the help of other Chicken Coop members, Larson is also trying to get to grips with the wider evolutionary forces that shaped modern chickens. He hopes to determine why, for instance, chickens have not been wiped out by disease. This might have been expected because their very rapid selection — much of which has taken place since 1900 — should have led to inbreeding and, by whittling down immune genes, a reduced ability to respond to infections.

I love chicken almost as much as I love pork. I wasn’t raised with any religious or philosophical beliefs that inhibit the consumption of animal protein. So, no problem there. :)

Until modern science comes up with a sound reason to avoid healthfully-raised specimens of foods my progenitors used to catch in the wild – and eat – I will continue to do the same. Though restricting my hunt to the aisles of markets of all types, from chain stores to local farmers.

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3 comments

  1. Tastes Like

    “Consumer group files complaint in U.S. District Court to try to force the USDA to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella as adulterants, which would prevent the sale and distribution of tainted meat. (5/28/14) http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/tainted-meat-group-sues-usda-over-salmonella-n116786 On Tuesday (5/27), the CDC reported 50 more illnesses in an outbreak of seven strains of drug-resistant salmonella tied to Foster Farms chicken parts. Since March 2013, 574 people have been sickened in the outbreak, including nearly 40 percent who’ve been hospitalized. Foster Farms has refused to issue a voluntary recall for the meat and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says it cannot force the firm to do so.

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