Vail Daily column: So now you know |

Vail Daily column: So now you know

Butch Mazzuca
Butch Mazzuca |

If a chicken is hatched from an egg, then where does the egg come from? Presumably the egg comes from a chicken, but that begs the question of where did the egg come from in the first place?

Attempting to ascertain the first cause of a circular cause and consequence problem regarding the natural world is an exercise in futility, unless of course the individual’s belief system involves the Garden of Eden and all the living things a divine being put there.

But metaphysical answers satisfy no one. So for the moment, let’s leave belief systems and metaphysics out of the equation and stick to proven facts. Scientists know that egg-laying animals were present long before the first chicken appeared on some Neanderthal’s spit, so technically speaking, it wouldn’t be illogical to assume the egg came before the chicken.

But this is where the matter becomes dicey because the essential protein required for the formation of a chicken egg can found only in chicken ovaries, therefore, without first having a chicken (with ovaries containing a protein called OV-17) we technically cannot get a chicken egg. By deduction then, the chicken must have come first — case closed.

Ah, but not so fast. The first requisite to problem solving of any kind is having clearly defined terms. So before we can safely conclude the chicken came before the egg, we must clarify the definition of a chicken egg, making the question, “Is the chicken egg an egg that’s been laid by a chicken, or is it an egg that contains a baby chicken?” (There is a difference.)

To answer this question we must again turn to science, where it’s universally agreed that during reproduction two organisms pass along their DNA. But as we know from high school biology, the replication of this DNA is never 100 percent exact, which means that during the reproductive process minor changes to the organism occur, which over thousands of generations may produce a new species.

With that as a premise, it’s not unreasonable to assume that thousands or perhaps millions of years ago there existed a “chicken-like” bird that was genetically close to a chicken, but not exactly a chicken. For lack of a better term, let’s call this bird “proto-chicken.” And when the genes from our proto-chicken and a (proto) rooster fused, they combined to create a mutation resulting in offspring a bit different from the proto-chicken and proto-rooster.

Because this transformation was so gradual, it was millennia before it was realized that the fertilized egg from “proto-chicken” and “proto-rooster” were significantly different enough to become the progenitor of an entirely new species — the chicken.

However, some will argue that no single mutation constitutes a new species, and they’ll get no disagreement here because it takes many generations for the pressures of selective evolution to cause particular traits to develop. So where does that leave us?

In a nutshell (or an eggshell, if you prefer), thousands or perhaps millions of years ago some egg laying species evolved into the aforementioned “proto-chicken” that laid proto-chicken eggs. And it was one of the proto-chicken’s mutated eggs that resulted in the chicken we know today.

But that’s not the full story. That aforementioned chicken went on to lay eggs that were the same, or at least very similar to, those we buy at the supermarket today, leading us to the conclusion that the chicken came first.

But before settling on that conclusion, let’s keep in mind that it’s just as reasonable to hypothesize that the proto-chicken laid a mutated egg that when hatched became what we could classify today as a chicken. So in this scenario, the egg came first.

But we’re still not out of the woods because we haven’t answered the question, “Is a chicken egg an egg laid by a chicken or is it a chicken inside of a proto-chicken’s mutated egg?” And while that may be an interesting dialectical discussion, for our purposes it’s an academic one, because regardless of whether the first chicken came from a chicken egg or a mutated proto-chicken egg, the answer is the same — the egg came first. So now you know.

Information in this article came from the Mother Nature Network and Wikipedia.

Quote of the day: “It’s finger lickin’ good!”—Colonel Sanders

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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