Move over, human hipsters, you're not the only ones growing outrageous facial hair.
For years, farmers have noticed that some chickens have tufts of elongated feathers around their face and beak, making it appear like they had grown a beard. The cause of the feather beards was a mystery. Now, thanks to scientists in China, the mystery of the bearded chicken has been solved.
The answer appears in a study published in PLOS genetics on Thursday. Chinese scientists compared the DNA of bearded chickens to nonbearded chickens. The results led them to investigate a gene, HOXB8. Bearded chickens had multiple copies of HOXB8 and surrounding genes. Nonbearded chickens only had one copy of HOXB8.
After they found the gene duplication, the scientists wanted to know about the activity (called gene expression) of HOXB8. Genes can be controlled like volume on a radio. The gene can be turned up, blasting loudly, or played at barely a whisper. The scientists took skin samples from around the faces of chickens to determine whether the HOXB8 gene was being "turned up" more in bearded chickens than in normal chickens.