If we had to pick a member of the animal kingdom that was most likely to teach us about hair loss then in all likelihood the first choice would not be a chicken. Surely you’d at least look to a mammal with hair or even fur?
There is however a body of research to suggest that our avian cousin might actually hold some of the secrets to hair regeneration.
Keratin, Feathers and Hair
Fantastical as this may seem at first sight researchers believe the birds are a model research system to understand and reverse hair loss in humans. Feathers and hair are actually made from keratin and also humans and birds share similar families of genes for controlling growth.
Research has shown that stem cells in skin follicles are responsible for the replacement of lost hair and feathers.
Stem Cell Research
In June 2016 a photo of a mutant-beard chicken was published in the journal PLOS genetics. Its feathery beard curiously resembled a fully grown human version.
The beard mutation was shown to be the result of duplicated DNA in one of the chicken’s chromosomes. It was an important discovery which divulged greater detail about the function of HOX genes in controlling feather development in all birds. More interestingly HOX genes also control hair formation in humans.
Birds have an amazing ability to continually regenerate feathers from stem cells and whilst it’s still too early to draw any conclusions about whether chickens can actually help combat human hair loss some of the research is compelling.
This is particularly the case when one considers the similarities between human and chicken genetics in this area. Some recent research indicates that some of these similar genes are only active during human foetal development and dormant in adults, for example.
So next time you’re ordering a KFC remember that the humble chicken might be much more important to you than just a fast food snack. If you’ve got any signs of thinning hair it might just hold the solution to re-growing your glorious locks.