Cathy Isom tells us why some chickens have beards. That story’s ahead on this Land of Ours.
Scientists have long been stumped as to why some breeds of chickens are sporting tufts and elongated feathers around their face and beak. Researchers in China believe they may have spotted the genetic mutation behind the flashy looks. In a study published in PLOS genetics, the Chinese scientists compared the DNA of bearded chickens to non-bearded chickens. They found that it all comes down to a specific gene, the ominously named HOXB8 – an important gene, which plays roles in hair development. The Hox group of genes help to control hair or feather growth patterns in other species, too, including humans and mice. The team found that in chickens with muffs and beards, a genetic mutation resulted in HOXB8 being present at high levels in the facial skin. The more expressions of HOXB8, the more feather growth, and—the more beards. As of now, scientists don’t believe that beards provide any evolutionary advantage. And they can only speculate why these genetic differences came about, but they’re most likely due to hundreds and even thousands of years of domestication and breeding practices.