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A Bird With No Wings?

Linda Seaton
| Sep 16, 2014

Sequencing reveals kiwi wing evolutionThe kiwi bird, native to New Zealand, doesn’t have wings and it doesn’t have a tail. With nostrils at the end of its beak, it has a great sense of smell, which makes up for its poor sense of sight. And instead of feathers it’s covered with thick bristle-like hair. But it’s technically a bird. In the genus Apteryx and family Apterygidae, the kiwi is the smallest of the ratites, which include ostriches and emus. With a plethora of peculiar adaptations, the kiwi makes a great subject for genomic studies.

Diana Le Duc, M.D., a Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, agrees. She’s studying the kiwi to better understand genome evolution. She had a draft genome until she received the HiSeq System and Nextera Mate Pair Kit, which generated the larger 13 kb libraries required for final assembly. She found a higher diversification in olfactory receptors responsible for that keen sense of smell and inactivation of several rhodopsin GPCRs, explaining the poor vision. But for the fibin gene, involved in forelimb development, she’s only found a small part of its sequence. Is it truly missing or has she just not found it, yet? 

Proving something is not there is a tall order, but Dr. Le Duc is up for the challenge. She’s rigorously working on the fibin gene to determine if it’s truly missing. Which may explain why the kiwi bird has no wings. Stay tuned.