Domestic Chickens Inherit Genes from Wild Junglefowl

Jenn Hoskins
2nd April, 2024

Domestic Chickens Inherit Genes from Wild Junglefowl

Key Findings

  • Study from China Agricultural University found domestic chickens have complex ancestry, with significant genetic input from grey junglefowl
  • Researchers identified specific genes from grey junglefowl in domestic chickens that may affect growth and immune response
  • Findings suggest multiple hybridization events contributed to the genetic diversity of domestic chickens, useful for breeding and conservation
Chickens, with their vast numbers and global presence, are a cornerstone of human agriculture. They are crucial for food security and are a source of protein for billions of people. Understanding their genetic origins and diversity is not just a matter of scientific curiosity but also has practical implications for breeding and conservation efforts. Recent research from China Agricultural University has shed new light on the genetic tapestry of domestic chickens, revealing a more complex ancestry than previously thought[1]. The study at hand builds upon previous findings that the red junglefowl (RJF) is the primary ancestor of domestic chickens[2]. However, it also incorporates the understanding that other wild species, such as the grey junglefowl (GyJF), have contributed to the genetic makeup of the chicken through hybridization events[3]. This new research delves into the extent of this genetic contribution and identifies specific areas of the chicken genome that carry the genetic signature of the grey junglefowl. The researchers analyzed the whole-genome data of 149 samples, which included both wild junglefowls and local domestic chicken breeds. Their aim was to map out the introgression events—the transfer of genetic information from one species to another through interbreeding—that occurred from the grey junglefowl to domestic chickens. The study expands on prior work that identified the yellow skin trait in domestic chickens as originating from the grey junglefowl, rather than the red junglefowl, suggesting that grey junglefowl had a more significant role in the domestic chicken's ancestry than once believed[4]. The importance of the grey junglefowl was further underscored by genome-wide analyses that showed extensive bidirectional introgression between this species and domestic chickens, with lesser amounts of genetic exchange with the Ceylon junglefowl and a single instance of Green junglefowl introgression[5]. These findings suggest that the genetic diversity of domestic chickens is the result of multiple hybridization events throughout their evolutionary history. By examining the whole genomes of these birds, the researchers were able to pinpoint the specific regions where the grey junglefowl's genetic material has been incorporated into the domestic chicken genome. These regions include genes that are important for development and the immune system, indicating that the introgression events may have had significant impacts on the domestic chicken's traits and overall fitness. This study not only challenges the simplistic view of the chicken's ancestry but also opens up new avenues for breeding programs. The genetic diversity stemming from multiple wild ancestors can be a valuable resource for breeders looking to improve traits such as disease resistance or adaptability to changing environments. Moreover, it underscores the importance of preserving wild junglefowl species, as they continue to be a source of genetic diversity for domestic chickens. In summary, the work by China Agricultural University provides a more detailed understanding of the domestic chicken's genetic origins. It confirms that the domestic chicken is a product of complex hybridization events, with a significant contribution from the grey junglefowl. This research not only enriches our knowledge of chicken domestication but also has practical implications for the future of sustainable poultry breeding.

GeneticsAnimal ScienceEvolution


Main Study

1) Significant genomic introgression from grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) to domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus)

Published 1st April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Domestic chicken diversity: Origin, distribution, and adaptation.

3) Molecular evidence for hybridization of species in the genus Gallus except for Gallus varius.

Journal: Animal genetics, Issue: Vol 36, Issue 5, Oct 2005

4) Identification of the yellow skin gene reveals a hybrid origin of the domestic chicken.

5) The wild species genome ancestry of domestic chickens.

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