The Cellular and Molecular Origins of Beak Morphology

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Science  24 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5606, pp. 565-568
DOI: 10.1126/science.1077827

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Cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying differences in beak morphology likely involve interactions among multiple embryonic populations. We exchanged neural crest cells destined to participate in beak morphogenesis between two anatomically distinct species. Quail neural crest cells produced quail beaks in duck hosts and duck neural crest produced duck bills in quail hosts. These transformations involved morphological changes to non–neural crest host beak tissues. To achieve these changes, donor neural crest cells executed autonomous molecular programs and regulated gene expression in adjacent host tissues. Thus, neural crest cells are a source of molecular information that generates interspecific variation in beak morphology.

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