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Studying The Genetic, Developmental,
and Molecular Bases of Morphological Variations in Birds:
The Model, Approaches, Techniques, and Resources

    The rapidly increasing number of avian genome sequences and the availability of transcriptomic tools provide an excellent opportunity to study evolutionary processes and gene expression patterns that potentially account for morphological characteristics, and to unravel the genetic basis of phenotypic variation.  

    My ultimate goal is to understand the genetic and genomic changes creating the origin and evolution of these novelties.  

    One of the favorite models of my research is the feather: the feather is a complex epidermal integument with highly ordered and hierarchically branched structures that are composed of flexible corneous materials made of α and β keratins.  Feathers are also an example of evolutionary innovation: they evolved relatively recently in the avian lineage but have undergone rapid and dramatic diversification. 

    I and my collaborators have successfully located a candidate gene and functionally validated the causative mutation using molecular and developmental biology techniques. I also collected the whole-genome wide variation in two domestic chicken breeds using Illumina sequencing.  Moreover, I am working on the gene expression profiles of developing feathers using RNA-seq.  In addition, I successfully used RCAS retrovirus to express mutated genes and antisense RNA to reveal the functions of some α- and β-keratin genes.

    Combining the model, approaches, techniques, and resources I developed, I will be able to study the genetic, developmental, and molecular bases of morphological variations in birds. My lab will investigate the roles of new candidate genes which were identified by my transcriptomic analyses and were not previously known to involve in feather development as well as study the domestication of other birds. 

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