Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pigeon Gene Mutation

            This article written by Charles Zimmer was about the genetic mutation of pigeons and how their genetic patterns could change the way scientists think about gene mutation. When Charles Darwin was still in the process of creating his hypothesis and now widely accepted theory of natural selection, he was greatly influenced by the patterns he found in pigeon genetics. He kept a coup full of pigeons of all different breeds (pouters, carriers, barbs, fantails, etc.), and interbred them to see how different specimens changed from generation to generation. For a long time up until now, the focus on genetic mutation has been off pigeons and more directed towards other living things like fruit flies and E. coli. A modern scientist named Dr. Michael D. Shapiro has begun new research on pigeons at University of Utah in order to find out more about their intriguing genetics. He has found new evidence supporting Darwin’s hypothesis that the many diverse pigeon species all originate from the rock pigeon. His focus, however, is targeting the mutations that create radical changes in the anatomy. To begin this study, Shapiro targeted the crest of the pigeon. The crest was used, of all parts of the anatomy, because it can change drastically in very few generations and from any breed of pigeon. Shapiro has discovered from his specific study of crests, that all crest mutation comes mutation of the same gene, EphB2. This suggests that there is a consistency in the mutation. When five different kinds of pigeon all grew the same type of eccentric crest, Shapiro realized the EphB2 was the gene mutated in every instance. Similarly, a scientist from Cornell University named Dr. Adam Boyko has found a gene mutation in different dog breeds with short legs. In every change from one generation to the next, the same gene was mutated in the dogs to achieve the end result of short legs.
            After reading this article, I was very interested in the possibility of genetic mutation achieving a consistent end result. Scientists with the ability to find one specific gene, mutate it in a specific way, and end up with one specific desired result could mean the end of many genetic disorders and illnesses. If the DNA of pigeons and dogs can be consistently mutated to a desired end result, why not humans?
            Overall I was really pleased with the way that the article was written. It was well organized and factual, and informed the reader on a difficult topic to understand with success. One problem I had with it, however, was the mention of Dr. Shapiro’s search for the original wild rock pigeon having no final answer. It was said that he was searching for a purely wild pigeon species that was important to his experiment and then no mention if or how he found the rock pigeon was given. With that said, the article was very interesting and promising to the world of genetics.

1 comment:

  1. The article you chose to summarize was very interesting, and you yourself did a good job of getting all of the main points of the article across while keeping the reader entertained. You did a particularly good job at discussing how the scientist, Dr. Michael D. Shapiro, went about researching evolution and genes through his research of pigeons, even going so far as to discuss exactly what traits Dr. Shapiro was looking for. You also did a good job relating the article biology and posed an interesting idea that maybe people could apply this knowledge to find out how to get rid of certain genetic defects or illnesses in living things, such as humans. Lastly, your criticisms of the article were just. One thing I learned that impressed me was that the traits of living things, like pigeons, could be manipulated through breeding to drastically change their physical properties over a few generations. I did not realize how quickly evolution could occur when guided under a careful hand. Another thing I found interesting is that it has taken so long for somebody to pick up Charles Darwin’s work where he left off! One thing I think you could have done better was discuss ways pigeons have been bred in the past to help humans. The article gave a few examples of what qualities people looked for when breeding pigeons on the past, and I found your summary to be a little lacking in this regard.