Humans have shaped the domestic pigeon into hundreds of breeds of various shapes, colours and attributes — a diversity that captivated Charles Darwin, who even conducted breeding experiments on his own pigeons. Now, a number of domestic and feral pigeon genomes have been sequenced for the first time, giving scientists a resource for studying the genetics of how these traits evolved.

The study, published online today in Science1, gives insight into the genetics of both 'fancy' domestic breeds and plain street pigeons and supports their common origin from the wild rock dove (Columba livia). "We go from having virtually no genetic or genomic resources available for the pigeon to being able to map regions associated with particular traits,” says team member Michael Shapiro, a biologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

All in the family
The Utah team, along with Jun Wang and colleagues at BGI-Shenzhen in China and scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, sequenced a complete 'reference' genome from a breed called the Danish tumbler. The researchers also sequenced the genomes of 36 different fancy breeds and of two feral birds from different regions of the US.

Read more at Nature.