Until recently, scientists believed that evolution could only change the characteristics of a species over the course of eons. Minor genetic mutations mix and match across a species for generations, and eventually the maladaptive traits are weeded out, giving way to traits better suited to the survival of the species. Now, however, thanks to research conducted at Oxford University on Plymouth Rock chickens, scientists believe evolution can occur 15 times faster than they once thought.
The test subjects were members of a 59-year pedigree that had been developed at Virginia Tech by Professor Paul Siegel. Scientists used blood samples to analyze the DNA of 12 chickens from the same generation and discovered, much to their surprise, that two mitochondrial genome mutations had occurred in just 50 years. Prior to this analysis, scientists estimated the rate of change in a mitochondrial genome to be about 2 percent per million years.
Greger Larson, the lead researcher in the Oxford University team, weighed in on the implications of the scientists’ findings in a recent press release. “Our observations reveal that evolution is always moving quickly, but we tend not to see it because we typically measure it over longer time periods, said Larson.”
This study is just the beginning of what is sure to be a much deeper investigation of the speed at which different species can evolve. It just goes to show that there’s no shortage of valuable information to be learned from our humble friend the chicken.
Stay tuned for more updates from the Cackle Coop!