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Happy Thanksgiving! Modern turkey DNA compared to ancestors

Happy Thanksgiving to all my visitors from the United States!

A researcher from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has compared the DNA of a modern turkey with a 19th-century bird from the museum’s collection, and found that modern turkeys exhibit less genetic variation than their ancestors and other modern livestock breeds.

“Ancient turkeys weren’t your Butterball,” said Rob Fleischer, head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics. “We set out to compare the genetic diversity of the domestic turkeys we eat today with that of the ancestral wild turkey from South Mexico. Some of what we found surprised us.”

What an SCBI scientist and collaborators found was that the domestic turkey that ends up on the dinner table exhibits less genetic variation than not only its ancestral wild counterparts, which were first domesticated in 800 B.C., but also than other livestock breeds, such as domestic pigs or chickens. The genetic traits affected by the variation are body size and breast muscle development — features that can help determine the likelihood of a consumer buying a turkey. The results of the study were recently published in BMC Genomics.

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Story: ScienceDaily | Photo: Dan Garber

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