We’ve Had Bird Evolution Wrong

A frozen fraction of genome exhibiting suppressed recombination rewrites our understanding of the bird family tree. Doves and flamingos more distantly related than previously thought.

A greater flamingo in Mallorca, Spain. Unraveling a genetic mystery revealed that flamingos and doves are more distantly related than previously thought. (Credit: Daniel J. Field).

An enormous meteor spelled doom for most dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But not all. In the aftermath of the extinction event, birds — technically dinosaurs themselves — flourished. Scientists have spent centuries trying to organize and sort some 10,000 species of birds into one clear family tree to understand how the last surviving dinosaurs filled the skies. Cheap DNA sequencing should have made this simple, as it has for countless other species. But birds were prepared to deceive us. In a pair of new research papers (PNAS & Nature) released April 1, 2024 scientists reveal that another event 65 million years ago misled them about the true family history of birds. They discovered that a section of one chromosome spent millions of years frozen in time, and it refused to mix together with nearby DNA as it should have.  

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