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Penguin Genomes

December 17, 2014

Scientists have sequenced the genomes of two penguin species, revealing much about how they’ve adapted to inhospitable environments.



StormPetrel1 flickr

Adélie penguins have genetic mutations that give them powerful forelimbs for swimming, and thick skin and stiff feathers for resisting the elements. (StormPetrel1/flickr)

What makes penguins tick. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Penguins can’t fly, but their short, powerful forelimbs propel them rapidly through frigid waters at breathtaking speeds.

DAVID LAMBERT (Griffith University):

People say that penguins don’t fly, but in a sense they do, they just happen to fly underwater.


That’s Griffith University evolutionary biologist David Lambert, who says penguins have 17 gene mutations that specialize their forelimbs for swimming. He was part of an international team that sequenced the genomes of two penguin species to further understand how they thrive in harsh Antarctic conditions.

DAVID LAMBERT (Griffith University):

They have a variety other important genes, some of which are involved in thickening of the skin, for example. Being well insulated is a major necessity. And they have in fact 13 genes we hadn’t seen before which are involved in the production of feathers.


The research appears in the journal GigaScience. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.