The Chinese Crested duck (Fengtou duck) reappeared in China recently. Along with white feathers and a black bill and feet, the Fengtou duck has a high feather crest. This breed can be used for ornamental purposes or as a model organism; however, little is known about the genetic basis and development of its distinct morphological features. In this study, we observed the skull and feather crest of Fengtou duck in the embryonic stages. As a result, the protuberances of the head integument could be clearly observed at embryonic stage E9, and small perforations in the skull were first visible at E13 and were clearer at E15. Besides, intracranial fat in a small number of individuals was found starting at E15, and a small number of osteophytes was found at E18. In addition, hematoxylin-eosin (HE) and Oil Red-O staining of the crest cushion and intracranial tissue revealed fat tissue accumulation. Previous studies demonstrated that homeobox c8 (HOXC8) played a critical role in chicken crest formation. Here, we cloned the HOXC8 from Fengtou duck and determined that its transcript was highly expressed in the crest cushion; moreover, HOXC8 was detected in this tissue with a molecular weight of 38 kDa in the Fengtou duck. In conclusion, embryos of Fengtou duck have different small protuberances and perforations in the skull, including accumulation of intracranial tissue and osteophytes in some cases. Furthermore, HOXC8 may regulate the formation of the crest. These findings provide novel insight into the ontogenesis of the crest cushion in crested ducks and a basis for future studies on their evolutionary origins.
Keywords: Crest cushion; Duck; Embryonic development; HOXC8.
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