Darwin’s Finches beak variation due to ALX1 gene, study reveals

Darwin’s finches have been one of the most-researched birds in the entire world, and once again, a group of scientists in Sweden, as well as the United States, have done some more research on these diverse little birds. Scientists, including Darwin himself, were always amazed at the beak diversity that exists within the species. It’s something that isn’t seen anywhere else in science, like this, or in nature for that matter – but here, it appears to happen regularly, and without any cause.

The study has appeared in the science journal called “Nature.” Darwin’s theory, as connected to natural selection, reinforced the fact that for these birds – ultimately what was at play was the necessity to survive from different food sources as the bird evolved from its original, and earliest ancestor. As the birds had to use their beaks for different purposes and different food sources, it became commonplace for them to essentially have mutated genes within their species. Combine that with the fact that these subspecies were then reproducing with each other, mixing the genes further –and what you’re left with is a confusing, messy, and sloppy gene pool.


When the new team went through and observed the genetic structure of these finches that exist today – what they found was that the gene known as the ALX1 was the primary driver of these animals. While they may or may not have caused the differences in beak size – they certainly were the only difference between a few of different species that had two different types of beaks. The team noted that “There are multiple genes that contribute. But we think that ALX1 is one of the most important, if not the most important factor that has changed on the island.”


While this study does show some details regarding the history of the Darwin finches that exist within the Galapagos Islands, it still leaves a lot of research left to be done. There are some good answers, and some good analysis within the confines of what the team found, but even they acknowledge that there isn’t purely enough information here to consider the finches a solved mystery within nature. In fact, this just makes the entire situation a bit more curious – given the fact that they are so diverse, yet from such a similar place.

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