Why did the chicken cross the road? To challenge long-held beliefs about evolution of course.

Credit: Virginia Tech/ John McCormick
Credit: Virginia Tech/ John McCormick

I know. That title is a pretty bad joke. One could even say it was a poultry attempt. Okay, I’m done now, promise. Now, to science!

In a new study published in the online version of the journal Biology Letters, a group of chickens show us just how quickly evolution can take place. A team of scientists led by Oxford’s Dr. Greger Larson looked at fifty years worth of data in order to trace how mitochondrial DNA was passed from mother to daughter. Now fifty years may seem like a long time to us mere mortal humans, but on the evolutionary time scale it’s a drop in the Darwinian bucket. That’s why what the scientists found was so surprising. In just fifty years, this dynasty of chickens had not one but two mutations in their mitochondrial genomes. This means that the rate of evolution for these chickens was fifteen times faster than thought possible, since according to estimates based on fossil studies, scientists had previously thought the rate of change for mitochondrial genomes to be at most a measly two percent per million years.

But the surprising findings don’t stop there. As anyone who has ever marathonned CSI may be able to tell you, mitochondrial DNA is supposed to be passed strictly as is from mother to offspring. But our fine feathered friends were having none of that, as the scientists discovered when they noted an instance of mitochondrial DNA being passed from father to child. Combined with the much higher than expected rate of mutation, this “paternal leakage” shows just how busy evolution can be, even over relatively short time periods. As the study’s lead author Dr. Michelle Alexander said, “Both of these findings demonstrate the speed and dynamism of evolution when observed over short time periods.”

So what does this mean for our understanding of evolution? For one, it underlines the fact that evolution is happening all around us, all the time. And if we don’t see it, it may just be because we aren’t looking closely enough.

 

Credits: Eurekalert, Biology Letters

Welcome

Thanks for stopping by the website for writer and anthrozoology student Taryn Noelle Kloeden. Here you will find interviews, musings, and short articles on animals, science, and the natural world.

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Flash Friday- “Reincarnation”

I have neglected to post my last several (dozen) works of flash fiction, but that stops today! Here was my first place winning entry to March 20th’s flash friday prompt. You can also check out my winner’s interview here.

Reincarnation

“Energy is not created nor destroyed, all that there ever was, so there is now.” Dr. Howard scratched the words ‘Conservation of energy’ across the dusty blackboard. Physics, the only class I ever failed.

The sky is above me. But it’s not all puffy clouds and soaring birds. Smog paints the stratosphere in jaundiced hues. There are power lines and buildings framing my spotted vision.

Last time the sky was cerulean. And I wasn’t alone. There were men all around, sporting musket holes, and trading groans.

But the time before, the sky was black. So were my robes, my hair, my blade’s sheath. I never saw the arrow coming, but I did feel it burrow into my chest. Blood welled, leaking with each shuttering thump of my foolish heart.

“The atoms in your body were forged in stars, breathed by mammoths. All that you are will never disappear. It will merely change shape.”

Warped sirens. The cold pull of blood-loss sinking me into the asphalt. I’ll be the headline on the 6:00 news. ‘Twenty Year Old Stabbed in Broad Daylight’.

Knife, musket, arrow. Burning in the heart of stars, raining, freezing, digesting, growing, decaying. I feel it all.

All that there ever was, so there is now.

 

Thanks for reading!