2013-02-04. Pigeons Get a New Look

posted Feb 11, 2013, 1:00 PM by Lisa Ou
 | Carl Zimmer, The New York Times. Relevant to GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: In 1855, Charles Darwin took up a new hobby. He started raising pigeons. [Read What Charles Darwin Wrote About Pigeons in ‘On the Origin of Species’ - LINK: http://documents.nytimes.com/charles-darwin-on-the-origin-of-species?ref=science#p=30] ...“The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing,” he wrote a few years later in “On the Origin of Species” — a work greatly informed by his experiments with the birds. Pigeon breeding, Darwin argued, was an analogy for what happened in the wild. Nature played the part of the fancier, selecting which individuals would be able to reproduce. Natural selection might work more slowly than human breeders, but it had far more time to produce the diversity of life around us. ...Now Michael D. Shapiro, a biologist at the University of Utah, ...reports that it has delved into a source of information Darwin didn’t even know about: the pigeon genome. So far, they have sequenced the DNA of 40 breeds, seeking to pinpoint the mutations that produced their different forms. ...The new work supports Darwin’s original claim that all pigeon breeds descend from the rock pigeon, whose range stretched from Europe to North Africa and east into Asia. [Times Topic: Charles Darwin - LINK: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/charles_robert_darwin/index.html] ...humans bred the birds to carry messages. By the eighth century B.C., Greeks were using pigeons to send the results of Olympic Games from town to town. Genghis Khan used pigeons to create a communication network across his empire in 12th century A.D.  ...pigeon breeders produced crests on the birds on five separate occasions. The scientists ...found that all of them shared precisely the same mutation in precisely the same gene, EphB2. ...The new research suggests that the crested version of EphB2 arose in a surprising way. It mutated only once, rather than five separate times…. Read the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/science/pigeons-a-darwin-favorite-carry-new-clues-to-evolution.html