Pigeons are the world's oldest domesticated birds, with a history with humans that goes back at least 5,000 years. We tend to associate them with urban sprawl, poop and other less desirable things, but the birds are highly intelligent and were prized as homing pigeons, and for their beauty.
According to the researchers, these are the key findings of the new study:
* There are some 350 breeds with different sizes, shapes, colors, color patterns, beaks, bone structure, vocalizations and arrangements of feathers on the feet and head.
* The pigeon is among the few bird genomes sequenced so far, along with those of the chicken, turkey, zebra finch and a common parakeet and "this will give us new insights into bird evolution," Shapiro said.
* Using software developed by study co-author Mark Yandell, a University of Utah professor of human genetics, the scientists revealed that a single mutation in a gene named EphB2 causes head and neck feathers to grow upward instead of downward, creating head crests. "This same gene in humans has been implicated as a contributor to Alzheimer's disease as well as prostate cancer and possibly other cancers," Shapiro said.