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Interbreeding With Domesticated Chickens Affecting Wild Red Junglefowl Genetics

The red junglefowl, the wild ancestor of the chicken, is losing its genetic diversity as a result of interbreeding with its domestic counterpart, according to a study in this week's PLOS Genetics. Red junglefowl — which were domesticated between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago — can breed with domestic birds, but the extent of the genetic exchange between the animals has been unclear, and conservationists fear that domestic introgression into junglefowl may affect their wild genotypes. In the study, a group led by researchers from the National University of Singapore compared the genomes of 51 chickens and 63 junglefowl from across their natural range, finding that DNA from the domestic birds has been moving into the wild birds at an increasing rate. When including the genomes of junglefowl from around a century ago into their analysis, the scientists discover that the wild birds have inherited as much as 50 percent of their genomes from domestic birds. They also identify eight genes that greatly differ between the wild and domestic birds and are involved in development, reproduction, and vision. These genes, the study's authors state, might be fundamental to the domestication of the chicken. "Our study brings to light the current and ongoing loss of the wild junglefowl genotype, suggesting that efforts may be needed to safeguard its full genetic diversity," they conclude.