Scientists decode DNA of chickens

In their first detailed and comprehensive look at the DNA of chickens, scientists have found that 60 percent of the bird’s genes have close cousins in humans. They say such analysis should prove valuable in learning more about the human genome.

The chicken DNA analysis is presented by an international team of scientists in today’s issue of the journal Nature. Richard K. Wilson, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is the senior author of the analysis.

The chicken genome – the creature’s complete set of DNA – is the first from a bird to be “sequenced,” which means scientists identified the 1 billion letters of its DNA code. That job was completed and results made available earlier this year.

Scientists sequence genomes of animals in part because they provide points of comparison to the human genome. Since the chicken and human genomes have been evolving separately for about 310 million years, it’s at a “sweet spot” on the evolutionary tree for such comparisons, Wilson said.

Such analyses can help identify chemical switches that turn genes on and off, for example, he said.

In fact, the new analysis revealed that people have genes related to chicken genes for eggshell proteins, which evidently play a role in bone formation.

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