Genomic Diversity and Evolution of the Head Crest in the Rock Pigeon

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Science  01 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6123, pp. 1063-1067
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230422

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Coo Coo

Charles Darwin was fascinated by the domestic rock pigeon and used this dramatic example of diversity within a species to communicate his ideas about natural selection. Many derived traits in domestic pigeons converge on ecologically and evolutionarily relevant traits in wild species. Shapiro et al. (p. 1063, published online 31 January; see the cover) sequenced the genome of the domestic rock pigeon (Columba livia), along with those of 36 breeds and two feral accessions and its sister species, the hill pigeon (C. rupestris). The results reveal the underlying genetics of the head crest and suggest that all crested breeds may have originated from a single mutational event.


The geographic origins of breeds and the genetic basis of variation within the widely distributed and phenotypically diverse domestic rock pigeon (Columba livia) remain largely unknown. We generated a rock pigeon reference genome and additional genome sequences representing domestic and feral populations. We found evidence for the origins of major breed groups in the Middle East and contributions from a racing breed to North American feral populations. We identified the gene EphB2 as a strong candidate for the derived head crest phenotype shared by numerous breeds, an important trait in mate selection in many avian species. We also found evidence that this trait evolved just once and spread throughout the species, and that the crest originates early in development by the localized molecular reversal of feather bud polarity.

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