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The Golden Egg: Chicken Genome Due Next Spring
By Kate Dalke

Chicken scientists will have plenty to cluck about in the coming months. The genome sequence of the chicken is expected in March 2004, and DNA sequences are already rolling off the machines at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The researchers behind the project have formed the Chicken Genome Consortium and are launching a new Web site called ChickNET—a gateway to all things related to the chicken genome.

From left to right. Red Jungle Fowl . Broiler chicken. White Leghorn.

The chicken genome could help researchers interpret the human genome. The humble bird will be the closest non-mammalian animal to be sequenced, and comparisons between the species should reveal genes preserved throughout evolution and regions of DNA that regulate genes.

The Consortium unites a historically scattered crew of poultry researchers. For a century, chicks have been the darlings of developmental biologists. But there has never been much talk between these researchers and their colleagues who study chicken genetics.

Meanwhile, the poultry industry and animal health industry have tried to find genes involved in making chickens faster-growing, meatier and healthier birds.

“Now, for the first time, with the chicken genome coming out, these different groups are talking to each other,” says Dave Burt of the Roslin Institute, in Edinburgh, Scotland, who co-authors a commentary on the project in today’s issue of Science.

Researchers will have three chicken genomes to pluck from. Washington University is sequencing the Jungle Fowl, an ancestral breed derived from jungle chickens living in Malaysia about 5,000 years ago.

The Beijing Genome Institute in China is sequencing two breeds, the White Leghorn, prized for its egg-laying, and the Broiler, found in many grocery stores. These breeds will be compared to the Jungle Fowl to create a reference sequence for the species.

Among other projects, the Consortium plans to build a database of gene activity during embryonic development.

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Burt, D. and Pourquie, O. Chicken Genome—Science Nuggets to Come Soon. Science 302 (June 13, 2003).

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