First analysis of chicken genome offers many new insights

St. Louis, Dec. 8, 2004 -- The first detailed analysis of the chicken genome has identified a chicken counterpart to an important human immune system protein, revised scientists' assessment of the chicken's sense of smell, and suggested that the chicken, long used to study gene activity in the earliest stages of life, may provide a good model for studying changes in DNA linked to aging and death.

Other findings from the analysis, reported in the Dec. 9 issue of Nature by the International Chicken Genome Sequencing Consortium, include the identification of genes that affirm the chicken's value as a model for study of developmental disorders like cleft palate and diseases like muscular dystrophy.

Researchers completed and made available the genetic sequence of the red jungle fowl -- a wild ancestor of the domestic chicken whose scientific name is Gallus gallus -- in March 2004. The genome provides several firsts: it is the first bird, the first agricultural animal, and the first descendant of the dinosaurs to have its genome sequenced.

The International Chicken Genome Sequencing Consortium is directed by Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Wilson and other project leaders predict that the chicken genome will help biomedical researchers seeking to better understand the human genome in order to improve diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Another paper appearing in the Dec. 9 Nature found relatively little genetic difference between Gallus gallus and domesticated chicken breeds, highlighting the genome's potential to aid agricultural scientists trying to improve the chicken as a nutritional resource and to limit the spread of avian flu viruses.

Scientists found the chicken genome has about the same number of genes as the human genome: 20,000-23,000 versus the human genome's estimated 20,000-25,000 genes. However, those genes

Contact: Michael C. Purdy
Washington University School of Medicine

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