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Researchers Eventually Discover Elusive Hormone Leptin in Birds

Researchers have found leptin – a hormone that regulates body fat storage, metabolism and appetite – in the Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata).


Falco peregrinus babylonicus. Image credit: John Gould, Birds of Asia, vol. 1, pl. 4.

People would wonder how the Arctic tern could fly nearly 70,000 km from the North Pole to the South Pole in its roundtrip migration each year and how the Emperor penguin could be able to incubate eggs for months in the long Antarctic winter without taking any food.

It is leptin that usually impact on such physiological gymnastics, but this hormone went missing in birds until the new discovery initiated by scientists recently.

Such discovery was made by Prof Joel Duff from the University of Akron in his comparison of ancient fish with reptile leptins for prediction of the bird sequence.

By identification of the sequence in multiple bird genomes, Prof Joel Duff and his team found that the genomic region where leptin was found had some similarity in regard to that of other vertebrates.

With their computer models of the bird leptin’s 3D structure, they were engaged in experiments which clearly demonstrated that the bird leptin could bind to a bird leptin receptor.

The paper describing their finding had been published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

As Prof Richard Londraville, one of senior member of research team said, their research was quite useful, since people wanted to know more about leptin in birds to promote the poultry industry, for example, to breed more faster growing and tasteful chickens for daily life.

Although the new discovery is important, it is hoped that more study should be taken to discover leptin in chickens, possibly because their gene structure are different from that of other birds.

Journal reference: Prokop JW et al. 2014. Discovery of the Elusive Leptin in Birds: Identification of Several ‘Missing Links’ in the Evolution of Leptin and Its Receptor. PLoS ONE 9 (3): e92751; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092751