The Making of a Flight Feather: Bio-architectural Principles and Adaptation

Wei Ling Chang, Hao Wu, Yu Kun Chiu, Shuo Wang, Ting Xin Jiang, Zhong Lai Luo, Yen Cheng Lin, Ang Li, Jui Ting Hsu, Heng Li Huang, How Jen Gu, Tse Yu Lin, Shun Min Yang, Tsung Tse Lee, Yung Chi Lai, Mingxing Lei, Ming You Shie, Cheng Te Yao, Yi Wen Chen, J. C. TsaiShyh Jou Shieh, Yeu Kuang Hwu, Hsu Chen Cheng, Pin Chi Tang, Shih Chieh Hung, Chih Feng Chen, Michael Habib, Randall B. Widelitz, Ping Wu, Wen Tau Juan, Cheng Ming Chuong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The evolution of flight in feathered dinosaurs and early birds over millions of years required flight feathers whose architecture features hierarchical branches. While barb-based feather forms were investigated, feather shafts and vanes are understudied. Here, we take a multi-disciplinary approach to study their molecular control and bio-architectural organizations. In rachidial ridges, epidermal progenitors generate cortex and medullary keratinocytes, guided by Bmp and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling that convert rachides into adaptable bilayer composite beams. In barb ridges, epidermal progenitors generate cylindrical, plate-, or hooklet-shaped barbule cells that form fluffy branches or pennaceous vanes, mediated by asymmetric cell junction and keratin expression. Transcriptome analyses and functional studies show anterior-posterior Wnt2b signaling within the dermal papilla controls barbule cell fates with spatiotemporal collinearity. Quantitative bio-physical analyses of feathers from birds with different flight characteristics and feathers in Burmese amber reveal how multi-dimensional functionality can be achieved and may inspire future composite material designs. Video Abstract: [Figure presented] The design and developmental paradigms of flight feathers are explored using a combination of bio-physical analyses, molecular characterization, and evolutionary comparisons across a broad range of birds with different flight modes, revealing a modular architectural design that can accommodate diverse eco-spaces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1409-1423.e17
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 27 2019


  • amber
  • branching morphogenesis
  • composite biomaterials
  • dermal papilla
  • development
  • evolution
  • feathered dinosaurs
  • keratin
  • morphogenesis
  • stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology


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