Genetic control of avian plumage traits

This project is a collaboration between Professor Terry Burke and Dr Vincent Cunliffe of the Centre for Developmental Genetics, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield.

A close up of cockerel feathers.
A close up of cockerel feathers.

Part 1: Towards the mechanisms underlying sexual selection

Genetic control of avian plumage traits: towards the mechanisms underlying sexual selection. Avian plumage traits provide one of the classic examples of sexual selection by female choice. The project aims to understand the molecular basis of plumage signals in the chicken, using a microarray approach, and then go on to identify the genes that have evolved in response to sexual selection.


Dr Sarah Follett (2002-2008)

John Chittock (2003-2006)

Part 2: A candidate gene approach

Lavender is a pigmentation dilution mutation common among mammalian species. Several species of bird, such as chicken, quail, guinea fowl, muscovy duck, pigeon and blackbird, also have mutants showing a similar phenotype. I will initially begin with a study of 3 candidate genes, Myo5a, Rab27a and MLPH, known to be involved in this mutant phenotype in mammals, in the lavender chicken.

Once a mutation at one locus has been found to be associated with lavender I will extend my candidate gene approach to other species of bird to determine if mutations in the same gene can account for these diluted phenotypes also.

Keywords: Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution, Selection, Plumage Genes Chicken, Model Organism, Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs), Microarray, Northern Blot, Real Time-PCR


Mohsen Vaez (2003-2008)

Overall project supervisor (all parts)

Professor Terry Burke

Email :


Dr Nick Mundy, University of Cambridge.

Dr Michèle Tixier-Boichard, INRA, AgroParisTech, UMR1236 Génétique et Diversité Animales, F-78350, Jouy-en-Josas, Cedex, France.

Dr Vincent Cunliffe, Centre for Developmental Genetics, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield.

This project is funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council and by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology of Iran through a studentship.

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