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Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

By Kira Goldring
 Getty Images: David Silverman
*Updated 2019
Roman philosophers like Aristotle and Plutarch spent much time grappling over the circle of life. They raised the long-lasting question of whether the chicken or egg entered the world first. Ever since, humanity’s fascination with our origins hasn’t waned; even we of the twenty-first century still spend time ruminating over issues like Adam and Eve, the Big Bang theory and the nature of time. It’s no surprise, then, that the chicken-and-egg debate has continued to interest both scientists and laymen alike. So, the question still stands: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Here are three arguments for the egg as the original Earth-dweller, and three reasons the chicken was actually the first one standing.

 

Eggs in the Lead

 

Context Matters

As the question which came first, the chicken or the egg, is paradoxical in nature, the answer may lie in the context. For instance, a look at our nutritional regimen, where eggs and chickens play their most dominant role in our lives, provides a clear answer: the egg came first. Our token first meal of the day typically consists of eggs, with poultry only nearing our plates during lunch or dinner. This basic breakfast etiquette originated with the Ancient Romans, and humans worldwide have been carrying the sensible tradition ever since.

 

Evolution

A theory endorsed by both Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson, evolution is on the side of the egg as coming before the chicken. This is because there was once a proto-chicken – a bird resembling a chicken, but not quite of chicken status – that went about its business laying and fertilizing an egg. However, this egg carried some sort of genetic mutation that turned it into the chicken we have now come to know and love. Because the parents of the first chicken egg were birds that weren’t yet chickens, it appears that the egg did, indeed, come first.

In addition, eggs of other birds predated chickens by millions of years, and there are fossils to prove it. The Archaeopteryx – largely accepted as the world’s oldest and first bird, and the closest living being of ancient times to resemble a chicken – left behind fossils from 150 million years ago, give or take. So, in comparison to other types of birds, chickens came rather late to the evolutionary party.

 

Genetically Modified Eggs

The recent advent of genetically modified chicken eggs suggests that in matters of science and medicine, eggs precede the chicken. Not intended for consumption, these eggs have been genetically engineered and contain a protein that plays a key role in fighting diseases like cancer, hepatitis and other immune-related illnesses. Japanese researchers have discovered a complex process to fertilize eggs that, long story short, produce male chicks that are crossbred with females to lay eggs containing the protein-producing cancer-fighting genes.  The result, stemming solely from the egg, is expected to significantly reduce medicine production costs. This goes to show than when humans recreate nature, they have to start with the egg.

 

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The Chicken Wins

 

Protein

British scientists from Sheffield and Warwick universities are now convinced that the chicken preceded the egg, and they have the research to back it up. Their study follows the development of a chicken’s egg, concluding that chicken eggs can only form with the help of a protein found solely in the ovaries of a chicken. Additionally, chickens create eggs more quickly than other animals do, but they need the protein to help speed up the process. In other words, it is impossible for a chicken egg to form unless it has emerged from within a hen’s body.

 

Bible

Whether you believe the Bible is divinely inspired or written by man, the world’s oldest, most-read and most oft-purchased book had enough wisdom to solve this chicken-egg mystery from the get-go. Right in the beginning of Genesis, the following is written: “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind….And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” In other words, before they could procreate, fowl – which includes chickens– had to already exist. So, to answer which came first, the chicken or the egg, look no further than the Bible: Animals came from nothing, and eggs came from animals.

 

Instincts

Chickens – like other birds – sit on their eggs for over three weeks to keep them warm and to protect them from external elements. In fact, baby chicks only form in eggs that have been incubated. Research shows that non-mother hens don’t take interest in eggs that aren’t their own and that they’re even inclined to destroy eggs of other species. In other words, chicken eggs need a mother hen to sit on them in order to hatch. If the egg had come first, who would have kept it warm enough to hatch?

 

The Bottom Line: While evolution would suggest the egg’s victory in the who-came-first battle, genetics seem to declare the chicken as victorious. As biological arguments can be made for both sides, the answer to this puzzling question may always remain a mystery. What do you think – which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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