via Cell Research, 25 June 2020: A paper in Cell Research describes the genomic history of the domesticated chicken, tracing its origins to Mainland Southeast Asia (which we already knew) and more specifically to a particular subspecies of a red jungle fowl.
Despite the substantial role that chickens have played in human societies across the world, both the geographic and temporal origins of their domestication remain controversial. To address this issue, we analyzed 863 genomes from a worldwide sampling of chickens and representatives of all four species of wild jungle fowl and each of the five subspecies of red jungle fowl (RJF). Our study suggests that domestic chickens were initially derived from the RJF subspecies Gallus gallus spadiceus whose present-day distribution is predominantly in southwestern China, northern Thailand and Myanmar. Following their domestication, chickens were translocated across Southeast and South Asia where they interbred locally with both RJF subspecies and other jungle fowl species. In addition, our results show that the White Leghorn chicken breed possesses a mosaic of divergent ancestries inherited from other subspecies of RJF. Despite the strong episodic gene flow from geographically divergent lineages of jungle fowls, our analyses show that domestic chickens undergo genetic adaptations that underlie their unique behavioral, morphological and reproductive traits. Our study provides novel insights into the evolutionary history of domestic chickens and a valuable resource to facilitate ongoing genetic and functional investigations of the world’s most numerous domestic animal.