One of these birds is not like the other. What if I told you color was just the tip of this ice burg? The meat from these two birds will taste the same, cook the same, share a similar texture, and are both domestic breeds of chicken. These two carcasses are actually hybrid roosters born in the same clutch of naturally brooded chicks hatched last spring.
The left bird is of Ayam Cemani stock, but a known hybrid because of his plumage color. The bird on right could have Ayam Cemnai blood, but not as likely because of the lack of fibromelanosis, an overactive pigmentation gene which causes the darker coloration. At this time in the development of the flock, I had just culled the last breeding rooster who was not Cemani. A fertilized hen will hold on to the genetics of her last breeding for up to two weeks.
Even the innards of these two birds shows a pigment variation, and what that means genetically, and how it affects nutrition and health in the meat is fascinating. I’d like to take a moment to delve into genetics and why they play an important role in nutrition and the continued improvement of our health through what we’re eating.
Can we all agree that you are what you eat? Enough research has been done to convince me of the important role diet plays in short and long-term health. The domestication of animals and plants through selective breeding played a big role in what’s on our plates today. Though genetically modified food is a huge topic, can we all agree on the genetic selection that’s been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years in agriculture? Let me be clear in saying the genetic technology of today is far and away from the simple selective breeding of yesteryear. It is important to know what genetic manipulation in a lab can mean to a species, and the consequences of drastically changing genetic makeup of a living organisms in a global economy.
For instance, we have genetically manipulated certain foods, like the potato, into a very few select strains for commercial agriculture. This is great for short term profits and a reliable mass production to feed all those fast food french-fry places, but at what long term cost? The homogenization of our food crops is causing devastation to genetic diversity and health, something forgotten fast in our race to out-compete nature’s limitations. When something is homogenized, we gain short term predictability, mostly related to production, to grow a business driven enterprise into profit and what we have been taught to embrace: exponential growth. Nature is finite, cannot be manipulated without consequence, and we will be corrected, by pestilence, plague, or biological crash. It has happened time and time again in the course of human evolution, and we’re in one right now.
But I was talking about chicken genetics, so I’ll get back to it!
So geneticists are actually mapping out all the strange and wonderful genes, which make up biological structure, and in doing so, we’re starting to understand how all these DNA strands are networked together. I’ll apologize now for not being a savvy scientist with all the answers, and admit that this article is a layman’s attempt at explaining the benefit to eating fibromelanosis genetics. It’s really cool to realize that the genetic differences in what appear at first to be cosmetic, are actually healthier; and here’s why:
“Indonesian Ayam Cemani exhibits fibromelanosis or dermal hyperpigmentation and possesses complex segmental duplications on chromosome 20 that involve the endothelin 3 gene, EDN3.” –PLOS (Public Library of Science)
Ok… so what?
“Proteins in the endothelin family are produced in various cells and tissues, where they are involved in the development and function of blood vessels, the production of certain hormones, and the stimulation of cell growth and division.” –US National Library of Medicine
I found the part about cell growth and division to be most interesting, so I looked deeper at what this all means in added benefits from the consumption of this “genetically enriched” meat. Endothelin receptor B proteins, which work with EDN3, are responsible for transmitting information from outside a cell through the cell membrane. Still confused about what this means? Well, let’s put it this way, the link between EDN3 and EDNRB forms when your cell matter is building a spinal chord and sending out receptors into your outer functioning parts. It’s the building block of your entire sensory construction. Wow!
“In particular, endothelin 3 and its receptor are essential for the formation of nerves in the intestine (enteric nerves) and for the production of specialized cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, a pigment that contributes to skin, hair, and eye color. Melanin is also involved in the normal function of the inner ear.” –Genetic Home Reference
This brings us back to our dark coloration in the meat, it’s a melanin thing, and it boosts the count of endothelin, which is crucial for healthy cell formation and sensory development. The Ayem Cemani birds have a higher count of EDN3 and it shows in the meat quality on carcass studies referenced in the PLOS article above. I’d like to see a study done on weather or not ingesting this genetic advantage serves the human cell development in some way. Based on other digestive studies about diet linked to health, I will go out on a limb here and say it would do some good. In my research I also learned that a drop in EDN3 production is a suspected link to breast cancer. (link)
I purpose that Ayam Cemani genetics will improve both the health and quality of meat produced here at Leafhopper Farm. It will be interesting to continue following genetic studies on the unique qualities of some of the less known livestock breeds, which were selected in the past for very important reasons, beyond just looks, or possibly in the belief that something a little different, might also enrich our lives. However, with science beginning to unravel the actual genetic material that makes up biodiversity, we may finally understand and appreciate the alternative structures built into animal husbandry. Maybe people will start going for the dark meat as a conscious health choice.