In a few decades, global warming will likely make our unbearable summers hotter, longer, and even more unbearable. So think of the chickens. Or, if you can’t find a place for chickens in your heart, think of the chicken nuggets and hot wings that you’ll miss. That’s why researchers at the University of Delaware want to breed a heat-resistant chicken with no feathers on its head and neck.
But how do you make a chicken lose its feathers? Geneticist Carl Schmidt at the University of Delaware is looking for the DNA basis of naked necks. The quest has taken him and his collaborators to Uganda and Brazil, where birds have naturally evolved featherless heads and necks to stay cool. Schmidt is also cataloguing other genes that may lead to hardier, heat-resistant birds.
Our commercially domesticated chickens — with their massive breasts and full plumes of feathers — are likely to be susceptible to heat waves in the coming decades. “My concern is feeding nine billion people in 2050,” Schmidt tells Modern Farmer. “That’s going to be a challenge. And it’s going to be made worse if the climate does continue to change.”
Schmidt’s plan for these new chickens involves only selective breeding, not genetic modification. (That’s probably in part because GM animals have faced a whole lot of opposition. Take the killing of the Enviropigs.) In fact, it turns out that selective breeding has created some pretty nutty-looking chickens already. [Modern Farmer]
Top image: The naked-neck chicken, an existing breed. Schmidt wants to breed such bald birds with commercial chickens to make the trait more common. Credit: Demontux/Wikimedia Commons