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Posted: August 24th, 2017
Updated August 4th, 2017
Posted May 18th, 2017
Uncovering the secrets of Darwin’s pigeons
Centuries of selective breeding have generated a tremendous diversity among the 300+ breeds of domestic rock pigeon (Columba livia), an organism that Charles Darwin proposed as an exemplary model for evolution under selection. This variation gives us the opportunity to better understand the process of vertebrate development, and to investigate how those processes evolve over time. Until recently, however, the specific molecular mechanisms responsible for phenotypic differences among pigeon breeds were a complete mystery.
To identify genetic changes responsible for novel traits among pigeon breeds, researchers from the Shapiro lab at the University of Utah Department of Biology utilized resources at CHPC to identify genetic differences in the genomes of over 100 diverse pigeons, which were then compared to pinpoint which genetic differences are most-closely associated with specific traits. These analyses require high performance computing to processes terabytes of genomic data. Without the large scale computing resources available at CHPC, identifying genetic differences among pigeons would take years, rather than days. Through these studies, surprising links between genes responsible for trait evolution in pigeons and genes responsible for genetic disorders in humans have been found. These results help researchers better understand mechanisms of evolution on a level that Charles Darwin could only have imagined.