In a “landmark” study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Kunming Institute of Zoology and published in Cell Research, researchers discovered that was introduced to its World First Chicken 9,500 years ago in Southeast Asia.
By Samiran Chakraborty
Chicken wouldn’t have been domesticated, let alone consumed in such a large scale had it not been for migrants and traders.
“Our results contradict previous claims that chickens were domesticated in northern China and the Indus Valley,” Wang said, adding that this is the first extensive study of its kind on the chicken’s full genome.
Charles Darwin was right and wrong.
The research confirmed one of Darwin’s chief arguments about the chicken: It descended from the red jungle fowl aka the Gallus gallus spadiceus.
However, the location of the domestication didn’t happen in India as theorized. Instead, the red jungle fowl most likely interbred with a colorful pheasant in the northern parts of Southeast Asia or southern China.
Archaeologists had assumed that World First Chicken domesticated 9,000 years ago in northern China and possibly Pakistan 4,000 years ago based on discovered bones, presumably that of chickens.
A research 20 years in the making.
However, Wang and his team analyzed full genomes of 863 birds and compared each one of them.
It wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Jianlin Han, a geneticist at the Joint Laboratory on Livestock and Forage Genetic Resources, who spent a whopping 20 years sampling chickens and wild jungle fowl in over 120 villages across Asia and Africa.
This was how the team identified that the bird was domesticated in countries such as Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and possibly even southern China.
“This region is a center of domestication,” Olivier Hanotte of the University of Nottingham, who is also the co-author and geneticist, said.
There’s still more to discover.
“This is obviously a landmark study,” Dorian Fuller, an archaeologist at University College London said, adding that the discovery could reveal how agriculture and trade networks were like in the region.
However, if there’s one thing the DNA of the bird can’t reveal is the reason for it being domesticated.
Researchers theorize that the bird, which was already colorful and pretty, was possibly sought after for its exotic plumage. That could have also led to cockfighting as well.
The sales of these prized fighting cocks, which is a money making business in Southeast Asia, possibly led to the trading of the bird across all regions except for Antartica.
Researchers are currently working closely with archaeologists to gather bones and create huge data sets on more than 1,500 chicken genomes from Asia, Europe, and Africa. Han hopes that the study will shed more light on certain variants’ ability to withstand disease and produce more eggs.
So the next time someone asks you, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” You can reply: It didn’t cross the road. It crossed the sea.
Originally published at Mashable Sea Asia