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Posted by franco cbi on Jun 06, 2013 5:47 pm

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#1 franco cbi at 8:03 pm on Jun 06, 2013

Land fowl, such as chickens, have normally developing penises as early embryos, but only have rudimentary organs as adults.

A study in Current Biology shows that these birds initiate a genetic "programme" during development that stops the budding penises from growing.

The loss of the organ could have given hens more control over reproduction.

Co-author Dr Martin Cohn, from the University of Florida in Gainesville, said: "Our discovery shows that reduction of the penis during bird evolution occurred by activation of a normal mechanism of programmed cell death in a new location, the tip of the emerging penis."

The team discovered that a gene called Bmp4 plays a critical role in this process. In chicken development, Bmp4 switches on and the birds' developing male genitals shrink away.

In ducks and emus, which retain their penises, the gene stays switched off and the organs continue to grow.

Given the absence of a penis, chickens and other land fowl have had to develop a method of fertilisation that does not rely on penetration.

Both male and female birds have an orifice known as a cloaca. When the cloacae are touched together, sperm is transferred to the female reproductive tract. This is known as frottage rubbing donuts a "cloacal kiss".

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