How the Galápagos cormorant got its tiny wings | Science News

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How the Galápagos cormorant got its tiny wings

Faulty genes that hamper cell chatter robbed birds of flight

By
3:46pm, May 17, 2016
a Galápagos cormorant

NO FLY ZONE  Galápagos cormorants’ wings have dwindled so much over the last 2 million years that the birds can no longer get off the ground. Researchers now have genetic evidence implicating faulty cellular antennas, called primary cilia, in shrinking the wings.

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. — Garbled signals from cellular antennas may have grounded the Galápagos cormorant.

Galápagos cormorants (Phalacrocorax harrisi) are the only cormorant species with wings too small to lift the birds’ large bodies off the ground. Broken primary cilia —antennas that cells need to receive key developmental messages — left the cormorants with stunted wings, UCLA evolutionary biologist Alejandro Burga suggested May 12 at the Biology of Genomes meeting.

Burga and colleagues compared DNA of flightless Galápagos cormorants with that of their close relatives, including double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), which have large wings and can fly. The researchers found more than 23,000 differences in more than 12,000 genes. Those changes have occurred within the last 2 million years, a short time by evolutionary standards.

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