Science Wednesday: One riddle that may have been “cracked”

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Which one?

In “breaking” news, it seems that one of the oldest riddles, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” may have been solved. The verdict? The chicken may have won by a nose (or a beak).

Published in the paper “Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by Eggshell Protein” (put that on your summer reading list) in the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers Colin Freeman and John Harding of the University of Sheffield and David Quigley and P. Mark Rodger of the University of Warwick argue that the chicken came first. Sort of.

What the researchers found was that  a protein, ovocledidin-17 (OC-17), produced in the chicken’s ovaries and present in the hard part of a chicken’s eggshell, plays an important role in speeding up the production of eggshell within the chicken’s body. When the protein is absent, an eggshell cannot be produced and without a hard, protective eggshell, a fertilized chicken embryo cannot survive. No chicken producing OC-17? No chicken egg.

However, whether or not this new evidence solves the famous riddle is up to both debate and semantics. If you interpret the riddle to mean, “What came first, the chicken or the concept of an egg as an encased, fertilized embryo that can develop on land outside of the mother,” then the answer is “the egg.” Reptiles, the ancestors of all birds, were laying eggs long before chickens evolved. However, if the riddle comes down to chicken versus chicken egg, the research on OC-17 may tip the scale a little more in the chicken’s favor.

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