Biotechnology may have the answer.

Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Recently, scientists at Sheffield and Warwick Universities have come up with what seems to be a reasonable solution to the mystery by isolating a protein called ovocleidin-17 (OC-17) which is crucial to egg-shell formation. OC-17 catalyses the conversion of calcium carbonate in the chicken’s body into calcite crystals that make up the outer shell. Hence, these researchers claim that the chicken came before the egg. However, the explanation fails to account for how the protein-producing chicken existed in the first place.

The alternative explanation comes from Darwin’s evolution. Evolution tells us that reptiles preceded birds on earth and it is known that all reptilian ancestors of birds laid eggs. Reptiles make use of proteins other than OC-17 to make eggs; hence it is incorrect to assume that the first eggs that were laid came after OC-17 developed in chicken. Hence, the egg came first. 

In simple terms, what the evolution theory is suggesting is that since obviously, reptiles and the earliest birds laid eggs and a mutation in one of these birds (which lay a mutated egg) led to the chicken, the egg came first. But technically, the bird which laid the mutated egg which gave rise to the first chicken was NOT a chicken.

Mind boggled? It’s simple, really.

What you are willing to believe is, of course, up to you. But this paradox enlightens us to the impact of biotechnology in our everyday lives. I am a student of biotechnology and I keep thinking that biotechnology deals with complex issues, like AIDS, a cure for cancer, over-production of food-crops or non-polluting pesticides. It may provide answers to these big questions but, as a fun-loving student, it is heartening for me to see biotechnology trying to answer questions that can amuse the common man. Finally, I have found a way to talk to my uncles and aunts about my subject and have them follow what I am saying.

NANDHINI NARAYANAN, III Year, B.Tech Biotechnology, Rajalakshmi Engineering College