Poultry traced back 10,000 years

December 26, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- In a scientific coup that appears to have tracked down the Adam and Eve of poultry, researchers at the City of Hope Medical Center have found that the modern poultry industry got its start more than 10,000 years ago when a Vietnamese farmer took a pair of red jungle fowl into a hut and began breeding them.

All domesticated chickens now grown in the world -- an average of more than 8 billion per year -- are descendants of those unlikely ancestors, which still exist in their ancient form, according to genetic typing results reported this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery moves the date for domestication of fowl back at least 2,500 years beyond previous estimates and shifts the site of the event south from the steppes of China, where archaeologists had previously found chicken remains.

"That's much older than anyone had previously expected," said archaeologist Robert J. Braidwood of the University of Chicago. That age would make the chicken roughly contemporaneous with the pig as the first animals domesticated for food -- about 1,000 years earlier than sheep and goats, and as much as 4,000 years before cattle.

Dogs were tamed for their companionship about 2,000 years earlier.

What makes the situation with chickens unique, said molecular biologist Susumu Ohno, is that the red jungle fowl still roams wild in Southeast Asia, while the precise predecessors of all other domesticated animals have long since become extinct.

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