A new breed of chickens has developed a secret formula for identifying their skin colour by looking at its pigmentation.
The chickens are called “chromatophores” because they produce pigments when they eat, a process called chromatography.
“It’s like the color you see on a picture.
We’ve done a lot of research to try to understand what makes these chickens different,” said Dr. Tom O’Leary, the head of veterinary science at University of New South Wales.”
We’ve got a lot to learn about how they produce these pigments and the genetic variation that makes them different.”
Chromatophore chicks are now being bred to produce pigmented eggs and a new breed is on the way.
Dr O’Leaigh said it was important that the genes of these chickens were properly expressed.
“When we put them in a breeding programme, they have a genetic marker called the RhoGAM gene, which tells them whether or not the chickens are white or black,” he said.
“The more Rho-GAM genes there are in the chicken, the more pigments are produced.”
If there are too many of them in the hen, they produce no pigment.
“The Rho gene was first discovered in the 1930s by a Belgian researcher named Jean-Marie Fouquet.”
He noticed that there were a lot more Rheo-Gam genes in chickens that were fertile, than in chickens with no eggs, and he noticed that those chickens had a dark plumage, and not white,” Dr O’Ley says.”
So he did some tests on the birds, and the RheO gene, and it was found that he had a mutation in his chicken egg which caused it to produce no colour.””
So it was thought that the chickens had the Rha mutation.
“That led to the idea that chickens could be bred to have more Rha gene mutations.”
This is the first known example of chromatophorous chickens.
“Chromatomores are a genetic group of chickens that produce pigmentation,” Dr Kelleher said.
The eggs produced by chromatomores, which contain about one-third the number of Rha genes as Rho, are more easily preserved and are usually kept in cooler conditions.
“These eggs are a very valuable source of genetic material for scientists,” Dr Rachael Kellehers, a research associate in the University of Sydney’s Department of Veterinary Genetics, said.
Dr Kellehes said chromatomore chickens were likely to produce a range of colours, and scientists were working to understand how this was possible.
“This is a very exciting research area, because there are a lot people who think that there is no genetic difference between chickens and humans, and we’ve discovered a way to study the colouration of these animals,” she said.Read more: