Gender Bending Chickens?

Just when you thought science couldn’t get any better, a new article in Nature is about to shake up our ideas of sex and biology.

Contrary to an old view of sexual development, Michael Clinton and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh say in the March 11 Nature, individual chicken cells can maintain their own strong male or female identities during development instead of being directed by hormones.

Clinton says his research group ended up considering hormones and sexual identity in the course of studying three peculiar chickens donated to the Roslin Institute. Each bird looked like a rooster on one side, with a long wattle jiggling under its chin, robust legs and bulging muscles. The other half of the same bird — the right side on two birds and the left on the third — had the darker plumage, reduced wattle and dainty ankles of a hen.

Such male-female mashups, called gynandromorphs, have turned up spontaneously in zebra finches, pigeons and parrots as well as in other kinds of animals, Clinton says. These cases challenge the traditional view that genetics takes a back seat to hormonal signals in guiding vertebrate sexual differentiation.

Holy chicken nuggets, Batman! Are the chickens intersex, transgender, or what? Maybe they’re “two-spirit.” But whatever word you want to use, that’s pretty freakin’ awesome that the chickens have both male and female parts, and they’re literally split down the middle of the chromosomal line.

I once saw some fish at an aquarium that could change their sex in order to perpetuate the species. Females could become male if there was a sex imbalance in the group, in order to reproduce and perpetuate the species. Transsexual fish.

You might be wondering what the heck does this has to do with anything. Well, I think the chickens and the fish show that transgender identities exist throughout nature. Kind of cool if you ask me.

(Hat tip to the Shanman for the story link.)

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