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DNA study takes aim at a common misconception about chickens

Plus: Were dinosaurs warm or cold-blooded?

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Consider the chicken: So domestic as to be boring, so benign as to be forgettable, so consumable as to be battery-farmed. Aside from the flamboyant, rock-and-roll looks of the Silkie chicken, most other chickens are remarkable in how overlooked and unremarkable they are to the majority of people. But where did chickens come from?

(The egg, obviously.) While scientists haven’t solved the riddle of what came first, they have finally sussed out where the domestic fowl we name-check as children in “Old MacDonald” originated. The answer came as a surprise — and you can keep scrolling to discover the truth about chickens.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Wednesday, June 8, 2022. Subscribe for free and learn something new every day.

I’m Claire Cameron and I am your host on this fine Wednesday. Thanks for reading. Enjoy today’s stories on mini-forests, dinosaurs, chickens, and more. We got this.

Just planting huge swathes of one tree species won’t repair biodiversity, a new book argues.Diana Vyshniakova / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Planting trees isn’t enough. Here’s why we need tiny man-made forests

On one day in 2019, Ethiopia planted 350 million trees. The same year, Turkey planted 11 million of its own.

It’s no exaggeration that tree-planting has taken root around the world as a popular fix for the climate crisis through campaigns like the Trillion Trees initiative and Bonn Challenge, but are these efforts missing the forest for the trees? (Terrible pun intended.)

Just as fast as tree-planting has taken hold, so has the backlash. Some scientists argue these “tree plantations” lack the ecological diversity of old-growth forests, and improper planting of trees can also lead to lots of dead trees. Up to 90 percent of the saplings planted in Turkey in 2019 were dead by 2020, according to The Guardian.

To save the planet and restore ecosystems, a new book argues we shouldn’t settle for simply planting trees. Instead, we should start planting forests. Well, mini-forests, specifically. And not just in rural areas, but in parking lots and on roadsides in urban communities around the world.

“It’s a really powerful way for people to connect with nature,” says Hannah Lewis, the author of Mini-Forest Revolution, available for pre-order now and releasing on June 9.

Read the full interview.

Hot or cold?Shutterstock

Were dinosaurs warm or cold-blooded? Scientists might finally have an answer

Scientists have long debated whether other dinosaurs were also warm-blooded like their surviving descendants, birds, or if they were cold-blooded like reptiles. Now, in a new study published last week in the journal Nature, researchers find many dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus may have indeed been warm-blooded, as well as the flying reptiles known as pterosaurs and the Loch Ness Monster-like creatures known as plesiosaurs.

Birds have the most active metabolisms among living animals. The exceptional degree to which they can burn the fuel stores in their bodies powers the flight seen in most birds, helping them spread around the globe. It also helps them generate body heat. This makes birds endothermic, or warm-blooded, meaning they are able to keep their body temperatures stable despite surrounding temperatures.

When birds evolved such high metabolisms is still unknown. Birds are the last members of the dinosaurs known as theropods, which included famous creatures such Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor. Prior work found that some extinct theropods may have shared traits once commonly thought unique to birds, such as feathers, raising the question of when bird features such as their high metabolisms or warm-bloodedness arose in dinosaurs.

However, scientists have long argued over whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded. Birds, the only surviving dinosaurs, are warm-blooded, but the other closest living relatives of dinosaurs, crocodiles, and alligators, are cold-blooded.

How they did it.

Regal.Grafissimo/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

Where did domestic chickens come from?

Chickens are present on every continent except Antarctica. However, it’s not entirely clear when, where, or why the familiar fowl was first domesticated. Previous research alleged that chickens were first domesticated 8,000 years ago in China, and spread into Northwest Europe by the Iron Age (during the first century BCE).

A team of researchers traced the origins of chicken domestication to human-made rice fields in Thailand — and much more recently than old research had supposed. In fact, some cultures revered them before they became a dietary staple.

Using radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, they reevaluated data from previous studies and traced back the oldest chicken bones across the globe. A Neolithic site in modern-day Thailand called Ban Non Wat holds the remains of the oldest known domesticated chickens, dating between 1650 and 1250 BCE. From there, it would take until 800 BCE for chickens to arrive in the Mediterranean.

Keep reading.

Play is a fundamental human need”

Between The New York Times writing about Elden Ring, and the cultural moment that was Animal Crossing: New Horizons in the spring of 2020, the audience for gaming is bigger than ever. Storytelling, visuals, and mechanics have grown far more ambitious and diverse than anyone could have imagined during the “console wars” of the 1990s. But until relatively recently, the industry has been slow to adapt to the varying needs of players, favoring a one-size-fits-all approach to difficulty and input devices. That’s left many disabled gamers frustrated, underserved, and left in the dark as to whether a game will meet their needs.

Even if you don’t identify as a person with a disability, if you’ve ever squinted at tiny text, needed a helping hand on a tricky sidequest, or flung your controller aside after too many attempts at a fiddly button combo, robust accessibility options would probably help you enjoy games even more. Xbox Director of Accessibility Anita Mortaloni maintains that designing features with specific needs or barriers in mind can benefit all players.

“We believe that play is a fundamental human need. Not for some, but for all,” Mortaloni tells Inverse. “That includes the over 400 million people with disabilities out there playing games.”

Mortaloni sat down with Inverse to talk about Xbox's ambitious plans for the future of accessible gaming.

Read the interview.

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About this newsletter: Do you think it can be improved? Have a story idea? Want to share a story about the time you met an astronaut? Send those thoughts and more to newsletter@inverse.com.

  • On this day in history: On June 8, 2009, the United Nations hosted its first World Oceans Day. The yearly celebration is held in honor of the great diversity in the world’s oceans, but also to raise awareness of the perilous state of many marine habitats due to climate change.
  • Song of the day: Ocean Breathes Salty,” by Modest Mouse.

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