In the lush landscapes of Java, Indonesia, thrives a unique species of poultry that stands out against the vibrant green of its native environment.
Known locally as Ayam Cemani, this chicken has a decidedly dramatic aesthetic, leading to its popular moniker: the goth chicken.
What sets the Ayam Cemani apart from the average rooster or hen isn’t merely its ink-black plumage, but its comprehensive melanistic characteristics that extend to its bones, tissues, and organs – a rarity in the animal kingdom.
The Tale of Fibromelanosis
The secret behind the Ayam Cemani’s characteristic dark hue lies in a genetic trait known as fibromelanosis, a form of hyperpigmentation.
As detailed in a 2017 research paper titled “The origin and evolution of fibromelanosis in domesticated chickens,” the story of the goth chicken’s coloration isn’t a mere game of luck, but a genetic orchestration.
Along with the Ayam Cemani, another breed of chicken shares this black tissue trait – the Silkie.
Though cloaked in snow-white feathers, the Silkie’s flesh, bones, and organs are also steeped in a dark hue. This mutual genetic phenomenon is where these two chickens’ paths intersect. Both breeds exhibit fibromelanosis due to a complex mutation in the EDN3 gene, which encodes for the protein endothelin-3.
This protein plays a pivotal role in pigmentation as it modulates the differentiation, creation, and distribution of melanocytes – cells responsible for the production of melanin, the dark pigment prevalent across the animal kingdom.
In Ayam Cemani, this EDN3 gene has been upregulated due to a mutation, leading to an increased expression in all of its cells. Consequently, the developing embryo is abundant in pigment cells, painting everything from its bones to its beak black.
Leif Andersson, a geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden, posits that the genetic reshuffle underpinning fibromelanosis likely occurred just once in a single bird hundreds or possibly thousands of years ago. “The mutation underlying fibromelanosis is very peculiar, so we are sure that it occurred once,” Andersson remarked.
More Than Just Aesthetic Appeal
The gothic charm of Ayam Cemani isn’t merely skin deep. Their unique blackened tissues make their meat hyper-melanistic, contributing to its perceived higher value than that of the average chicken. It also offers potential health benefits, according to recent research.
Silkie chickens, with similar tissue characteristics, are used in traditional Chinese medicine to boost immunity and fight conditions such as emaciation and feebleness, according to co-researcher Ying-gang Tian. They are also used to manage conditions like diabetes, anemia, menstrual cramps, and postpartum disorders.
The health benefits of these chickens’ meat can be attributed to a peptide called Carnosine, used worldwide as a dietary supplement.
Carnosine is celebrated for increasing muscle strength, promoting healthy aging, and managing diabetes. Poultry is a known source of Carnosine.
However, Tian’s research found that the black meat of Silkie chickens contains double the concentration of Carnosine compared to the meat of common White Plymouth Rock chickens.
Although the Ayam Cemani’s outward gothic allure is intriguing, it is the underlying genetic marvel and potential health benefits that add layers to the chicken’s fascinating profile. This blackened bird from Java, Indonesia, proves that there is indeed more than meets the eye.
As research into the Ayam Cemani continues, we can only hope to learn more about this remarkable creature and its intriguing genetics.
Apparently, people still cook and eat these amazing creatures …
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