Birds have dinosaur wings: The molecular evidence

Authors

  • Alexander O. Vargas,

    Corresponding author
    1. Programa de Morfología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Chile. Independencia 1027, Casilla 70.079 -Santiago 7, Santiago, Chile
    • Programa de Morfología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Chile. Independencia 1027, Casilla 70.079 -Santiago 7, Santiago, Chile
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  • John F. Fallon

    1. Department of Anatomy, University of Wisconsin, 1300 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53706
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  • This work was supported by grants of CONICYT (Chile) and the Company of Biologists to A.O.V. and an NIH Grant #32551 to J.F.F.

Abstract

Within developmental biology, the digits of the wing of birds are considered on embryological grounds to be digits 2, 3 and 4. In contrast, within paleontology, wing digits are named 1, 2, 3 as a result of phylogenetic analysis of fossil taxa indicating that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs that had lost digits 4 and 5. It has been argued that the development of the wing does not support the conclusion that birds are theropods, and that birds must have descended from ancestors that had lost digits 1 and 5. Here we use highly conserved gene expression patterns in the developing limbs of mouse and chicken, including the chicken talpid2mutant and polydactylous Silkie breed (Silkie mutant), to aid the assessment of digital identity in the wing. Digit 1 in developing limbs does not express Hoxd12, but expresses Hoxd13. All other digits express both Hoxd12and Hoxd13. We found this signature expression pattern identifies the anteriormost digit of the wing as digit 1, in accordance with the hypothesis these digits are 1, 2 and 3, as in theropod dinosaurs. Our evidence contradicts the long-standing argument that the development of the wing does not support the hypothesis that birds are living dinosaurs. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 304:000–000, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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