We Americans raised about 254 million turkeys this year, and ran up a $9.1 million turkey trade deficit by importing even more birds from Canada, according to the Census Bureau. But the fowl we’ll eat this Thursday do not bear much resemblance to the birds enjoyed by European settlers in 1621. They’re genetically distinct from their wild ancestors--in fact, they have almost no genetic variation at all, geneticists say.
What's more, the turkeys on our dinner table this week have less genetic variation than both their wild counterparts and other domesticated animals, including pigs and chickens. The lack of variance can be explained by the way Americans like their turkeys--big and huge-breasted. Variation in genes that code for those traits can lead to more scraggly and therefore less appetizing turkeys.Rob Fleischer, head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, said the team wanted to compare how domestic Thanksgiving turkeys compared with their ancestral wild brethren from southern Mexico.
“Ancient turkeys weren’t your Butterball,” he said in a statement.