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Origin of feathers: genes predate Dinosauria (free pdf)

Ben Creisler

A new online paper in MS form with free pdf.

Craig B. Lowe, Julia A. Clarke, Allan J. Baker, David Haussler, and
Scott V. Edwards (2014)
Feather development genes and associated regulatory innovation predate
the origin of Dinosauria.
Molecular Biology and Evolution (advance online publication)

The evolution of avian feathers have recently been illuminated by
fossils and the identification of genes involved in feather patterning
and morphogenesis.  However, molecular studies have focused mainly on
protein-coding genes. Using comparative genomics and more than 600,000
conserved regulatory elements, we show that patterns of genome
evolution in the vicinity of feather genes are consistent with a major
role for regulatory innovation in the evolution of feathers. Rates of
innovation at feather regulatory elements exhibit an extended period
of innovation with peaks in the ancestors of amniotes and archosaurs.
We estimate that 86% of such regulatory elements were present prior to
the origin of Dinosauria. On the branch leading to modern birds, we
detect a strong signal of regulatory innovation near IGFBP2 and
IGFBP5, which have roles in body size reduction, and may represent a
genomic signature for the miniaturization of dinosaurian body size
preceding the origin of flight.

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