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The evolution of a mechanically resilient epidermis was a key adaptation in the transition of amniotes to a fully terrestrial lifestyle. Skin appendages usually form via a specialized type of programmed cell death known as cornification which is characterized by the formation of an insoluble cornified envelope (CE). Many of the substrates of cornification are encoded by linked genes located at a conserved genetic locus known as the epidermal differentiation complex (EDC). Loricrin is the main protein component of the mammalian CE and is encoded for by a gene located within the EDC. Recently, genes resembling mammalian loricrin, along with several other proteins most likely involved in CE formation, have been identified within the EDC of birds and several reptiles. To better understand the evolution and function of loricrin in birds, we screened the genomes of 50 avian species and 3 crocodilians to characterize their EDC regions. We found that loricrin is present within the EDC of all species investigated, and that three loricrin genes were present in birds. Phylogenetic and molecular evolution analyses found evidence that gene deletions and duplications as well as concerted evolution has shaped the evolution of avian loricrins. Our results suggest a complex evolutionary history of avian loricrins which has accompanied the evolution of bird species with diverse morphologies and lifestyles.

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Davis, A. C., Greenwold, M. J., & Sawyer, R. H. (2019). Complex Gene Loss and Duplication Events Have Facilitated the Evolution of Multiple Loricrin Genes in Diverse Bird Species. Genome Biology and Evolution, 11(3), 984–1001

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