Convergent Regulatory Evolution and Loss of Flight in Paleognathous Birds

April 5, 2019
southern cassowary Luke Seitz

Species from widely divergent taxa can experience similar changes in traits. What underlying genetic drivers cause these parallel changes remains an open question. Tim Sackton (Director of Bioinformatics and former postdoc in Scott Edwards Lab), PhD student, Phil Grayson and Prof. Scott Edwards used a new method developed by collaborators in the Harvard Statistics Department to look across groups of birds that have repeatedly lost flight. The team showed there is convergence in the regulatory regions associated with genes related to flight, but not within the protein coding regions.

In the study published in Science Magazine, the researchers also sequenced a bunch of new genomes from paleognaths, the bird group that includes the flight-capable (volant) tinamous and the flightless ratites. The relationships among these birds imply at least three (and probably more) independent losses of flight. The Harvard Gazette

Image of southern cassowary by Luke Seitz