What is it about?

For a long time, we assumed that flightless birds all shared a common ancestor, however as DNA evidence has accumulated it has become clear that the loss of flight has occurred several times independently. This gives us an opportunity to look for patterns of accumulation of mutations in flightless birds not seen in other birds which give us clues to the underlying mechanism driving the loss of flight. Using newly sequenced genomes of flightless birds, including the extinct moa, we were able to show that the bulk of the DNA change driving this phenomenon occurs in the regions of the genome controlling when and where genes are turned on and off, rather than in the genes themselves.

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Why is it important?

This study highlights the power of combining many disciplines to answer fundamental questions in biology. The work required the collaboration of developmental biologists, computational biologists, morphologists, statisticians, population geneticists and ornithologists. It has resulted not only in new insights into how flightlessness emerged, but also in software that can be used to answer similar questions in other organisms.

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This page is a summary of: Convergent regulatory evolution and loss of flight in paleognathous birds, Science, April 2019, American Association for the Advancement of Science,
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7244.
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