Genetics
June 15, 2017, Austin TX - Global Animal Partnership (GAP), creator of North America’s most comprehensive farm animal welfare standards, has provided a grant-in-aid of research to the University of Guelph, Ontario for a two-year research project that will determine and evaluate the parameters necessary for assessing the animal welfare needs of different genetic strains of chicken breeds.

In 2016, GAP announced its intention to replace 100 percent of chicken breeds that result in poor welfare outcomes by 2024 with breeds meeting specified welfare outcomes within its 5-Step®Rating Program.

The Guelph research project will help determine which genetic strains are best suited for commercial production under the new standards GAP is creating. GAP will provide public updates throughout the duration of the project.

University of Guelph researchers Dr. Tina Widowski and Dr. Stephanie Torrey are leading the project. They will begin by running pilot studies over the summer, and the formal research study is due to begin this fall (Fall 2017), and will take approximately two years to complete (Fall 2019). All results will be published upon completion of the study.

“The research team is excited about the scale and scope of this research grant,” said Dr. Widowski. “GAP’s commitment to developing a scientific and robust methodology for assessing chicken breeds will allow us to explore in a comprehensive way, a large number of factors important to both the bird and producers.”

Dr. Widowski, a researcher and faculty member in the Department of Animal Biosciences, is the University Chair in Animal Welfare and director of the internationally recognized Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW), which has a reputation of hosting the largest animal welfare graduate program in North America. She is also the research chair of Poultry Welfare for the Egg Farmers of Canada.

Dr. Torrey is a senior research scientist in Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare, with an expertise in applied animal welfare. Her team of graduate and undergraduate students focuses on fundamental and applied research with broiler and broiler breeder chickens and turkeys.

Currently, fast-growing chicken breeds resulting in poor welfare outcomes represent 98 percent of all commercially available chicken meat in North America.

Modern chickens have been genetically selected for their fast, efficient growth and higher yield of breast meat. However, this has had detrimental impacts on the welfare of broiler chickens, including immune and musculoskeletal problems, resulting in limitations to the birds’ ability to express natural behaviors like perching, flying, and even walking.

This study will help create a way to objectively evaluate different genetic strains using a comprehensive list of parameters related to behavior, growth, health and production with the end goal of improving chicken welfare and specifically address the many issues resulting from fast-growing breeds.

More than 600 chicken farms currently use the GAP standard, affecting the lives of 277 million chickens annually and making it the most significant higher welfare farm animal standard in the country. Retailers, foodservice companies and restaurants have committed to adopting GAP’s new chicken standard and moving away from breeds of chickens that result in poor welfare outcomes by 2024, including Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Quiznos, and Boston Market.

The Global Animal Partnership is a global leader in farm animal welfare that has established a comprehensive step-by-step program for raising animals that requires audits of every single farm. GAP makes it easy for consumers to find meat products that reflect their values. A nonprofit founded in 2008, GAP brings together farmers, scientists, ranchers, retailers, and animal advocates with the common goal of improving the welfare of animals in agriculture. So far, the 5-Step program includes more than 3,200 farms and ranches that range from Step 1 to Step 5+ and now raise more than 290 million animals annually.
April 4, 2017, Edmonton, Alta – The popular University of Alberta (U of A) Heritage Chicken program is here once again, offering small flock enthusiasts the chance to order heritage chicks until April 19.

“Heritage chicks are vaccinated and hatched at the U of A’s Poultry Research Centre,” says Jesse Hunter, program coordinator. “This year, we’re offering Plymouth barred rock, brown leghorn, random bred broiler 1978, light Sussex and Rhode Island red chicks. We hatch a certain number of each breed every year, so check the website to order your favorite breed before they're gone.”

Heritage chicks must be pre-ordered on the Heritage Chicken website, and will be available for pick-up at local Peavey Marts across Alberta. Up to 20 day-old chicks cost $8 each, 21-100 are $6, and 101-500 are $4.

As part of the program, two small flock workshops are being held, April 12 in Spruce Grove and April 13 in Red Deer, and run from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Food and refreshments will be provided.

“The workshops are an opportunity to learn about biosecurity, housing, nutrition, disease identification, behaviour, anatomy, and more,” says Hunter. “To register for one of the workshops, go to Eventbrite.”

Register for Spruce Grove

Register for Red Deer

The Heritage Chicken program was established in 2013 to conserve multiple heritage chicken breeds housed at the University of Alberta Poultry Research Centre. The program gives people the opportunity to adopt a chicken and receive a dozen farm fresh heritage eggs every two weeks.

All proceeds from the sales are donated back to the Poultry Research Centre to maintain the heritage chickens.
The Poultry Industry Council (PIC) funded several research projects in 2016.  The following project addresses the layer sector of the poultry industry directly.
 
Grégoy Bédécarrats and his research team from the University of Guelph will be performing research which investigates the control of reproduction in poultry, within the context of a continuously evolving genetic makeup.

HPG axis
Specifically, the study will seek to reveal whether intensive genetic selection of commercial layer chickens has impacted control of the reproductive or HPG axis. HPG axis refers to the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonadal glands as a single system because these glands often act in concert.

In an interview, Bédécarrats described recent research in which he observed that modern strains of layers no longer fully fit the accepted neuroendocrine models.  He hypothesized, “While doubling egg numbers laid per hen, the past 50 years of genetic selection may have altered the normal physiological controls.”  

Key questions
Bédécarrats highlighted the key questions being formulated through recent analysis of commercial layers, “Why do they tend to mature without stimulation?  Why do they display extended laying persistency?  Is there desynchronization of the ovulatory process?”

Purpose of the strain
The proposed research aims to answer these questions by comparing a strain not selected for egg production versus a modern commercial strain selected for egg production.    The approach is to compare production parameters and relate these to molecular events.  Differences in the function of the HPG axis between the two strains will be identified.  Bédécarrats explains “Identifying differences between strains will give insight into the understanding of the actual mechanisms responsible for maturation, ovulation and persistency of lay.  This will show how genetic selection may have impacted the reproductive axis.”

Study objectives
The initial objective of the study will be to determine the relative importance of photostimulation versus metabolic status to initiate sexual maturation in commercial layers.  The study will then go on to investigate if a previously observed second estradiol peak is specific to modern commercial strains and correlated with laying persistency.  The study will conclude by determining if the second estradiol peak is the result of activation of the entire reproductive axis as opposed to independently ovarian activation.

Outcomes
“Outcomes of this research will assist in adjusting and/or refining on-farm management procedures and could help update codes of practice as it relates to layer flock turnover,” Bédécarrats said.

This research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Discovery Program and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs - University of Guelph Research Program.
Any method to preserve a species’ genetics is complex and costly. For poultry, raising generation after generation of a certain group of birds is one method, but because those who have been doing this don’t really receive any benefits that outweigh the costs, many are not continuing with it. In addition, relying on live flocks as a way to preserve genetics is also quite risky because something like a disease outbreak or a fire could always come along and cause the DNA to be lost forever.

A solution is therefore needed, preferably one that allows for the preservation of as much avian genetic diversity as possible. This will allow for genes from heritage breeds to be fully examined and characterized – genes which may hold great future promise in commercial breeding in terms of important traits like resistance to disease. American geneticist Dr. Janet Fulton has already demonstrated that there are some genes present in heritage poultry breeds that are not present in commercial breeds, and some of this heritage DNA (very much at risk of being lost at this point in time) may become crucial in future commercial poultry breeding enhancements.

But how is a central, efficient and secure way to preserve poultry genes to be developed? Cryopreservation (slow freezing) was tried because it works for mammalian sperm, eggs, embryos and more. But it turned out that cryopreservation of avian sperm significantly lowers its ability to fertilize eggs, and avian sperm doesn’t contain the entire bird genome anyway. While avian embryonic cells do, cryopreservation doesn’t work with them either.

Finding a reliable way to preserve poultry genetics is also challenging because of the trickiness involved with manipulating bird eggs and sperm, explains Dr. Carl Lessard, curator of the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources program (CAGR) at the University of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan. “What’s required is to open a small spot in an egg shell and deposit desired embryonic cells into the host embryo without killing it,” he notes. “That’s very difficult. So, while freezing embryonic blastodermal cells is a good way to preserve the entire genome of a species, it just doesn’t allow for easy usability of that genome in poultry.”  

In 2006, Dr. Fred Silversides (now retired from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) tried some new thinking. What about preserving the gonadal tissue (testicular and ovarian tissue) where sperm and eggs are created and stored? Might it be possible to develop a relatively efficient way to remove gonads, chill and store them, and then thaw and transfer them, resulting in the hatching of a chick with the desired genetics and not any from the surrogate mother hen?  

Instead of the slow freezing involved with cryopreservation, Silversides tried vitrification, where a gonad is removed from a day-old chick, treated with lots of cryoprotectant and chilled rapidly through a plunge in liquid nitrogen. The gonad is never technically frozen (there’s no ice crystal formation) but maintained in a glass-like (vitreous) state at a very low temperature. Once thawed, the gonad is surgically transferred to a day-old chick recipient that has had its gonad totally or partially removed.

At the same time, Silversides and his team developed ways to preserve the viability of the tissues during and after thawing and transplantation, such as treating the recipient chick with immunosuppressants to avoid rejection of the graft.

Success was achieved! Over time, the work of Silversides and his colleagues at AFFC was transferred to CAGR, where Lessard became curator in 2014. Since that point, Lessard and his team have been working hard to move all aspects of poultry genetics preservation forward.



What’s happening now
The technique for chicken testicular tissue is now well-established, and Lessard and colleagues are currently optimizing Silversides’ technique for ovarian tissue. “The ovarian grafts are not growing the way we need them to, so we are now trying to find a new chicken line recipient,” Lessard explains. “The bird line we were using likely has an immune response that’s too high. We didn’t see this with the testicular tissue grafts in that line.”

With turkeys, Lessard has established a reliable protocol for freezing gonads from newly-hatched chicks, with the next step to optimize the surgical procedures and immunosuppressive treatment to obtain successful growth of the grafts. In terms of the team’s preliminary genetic analysis, they’ve found turkey breeds have a lot of genome ‘admixture’ (many shared genes alleles between breeds), but more samples are needed to confirm this finding. Shared alleles, says Lessard, make it harder to characterize the entire genetic diversity of turkeys and establish what is, and what is not, pure turkey genetics.

Once vitrification of male and female gonadal tissue for chicken and turkeys is complete, the team will launch a national call in 2017 to request genetic samples of fertilized eggs from commercial and heritage breeds. They will also move on to other poultry breeds such as ducks.

Lessard and his colleagues are also creating a germplasm repository (sperm, eggs, gonads, embryos) for other types of livestock from all across Canada. “We are looking for donations from purebred animals in all areas of the country,” he says, “including bison, cattle, sheep, goat, horse, pig, deer, elk and more. It’s going well, and we’re getting more and more participation from livestock associations and individual producers. Right now (in September and October 2016), we are in Ontario and Quebec gathering samples from sheep, goat and beef cattle.” A website letting the public know what has been contributed is being developed and Lessard is looking for more Canadian and international graduate students to tackle all the work.

“We need many samples for poultry and everything else produced in Canada,” he explains. “Genetic characterization of commercial and heritage poultry breeds is extremely important and we need to establish the true diversity of the different poultry breeds produced here. The number of heritage breed birds is shrinking every year, and it’s very important to capture genetics as soon as possible.”

Silversides’ vitrification preservation technique has so far been adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture ‘Agricultural Research Service’ Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Lessard says individuals at that organization have already used the technique to preserve the genetics of several U.S. commercial and heritage breeds. In terms of other groups beyond CAGR working on gonadal transfer, a team in Hungary is currently working to master it.

To make is easier for them and other researchers around the world learn how to successfully complete surgical transfer of vitrified gonads, Lessard has been working on a free tutorial e-book featuring detailed video and audio descriptions of each step. “This strategy (vitrification and gonadal transfer technique) has great potential to preserve the entire genome of a poultry breed and also use that genome fairly easily,” he explains. “We want it to be available to everyone.”

July 18, 2016 - The genes of some chickens make them almost completely resistant to a serious strain of bird flu, new research has revealed. The findings, which are published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that genetics play a key part in whether the birds are susceptible or resistant to the potentially deadly virus. READ MORE 

Study using genetic lines of Virginia Tech chickens reveals evolution happens faster than previously thought

November 4, 2015 - A critical component of an experiment that proved evolution happens 15 times faster than was previously believed relied upon genetic lines of chickens from Virginia Tech.

The discovery utilized the DNA of lines of White Plymouth Rock chickens that have been developed for more than 50 years.

The research was published recently in Biology Letters, a journal of Royal Society Publishing. The discovery involved researchers from several universities, including the University of York, Oxford University, the University of Sydney, Uppsala University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Virginia Tech.

“This experiment and many others involving everything from animal appetites to genetics could never have been done without the pedigree lines here at Virginia Tech,” said Siegel, distinguished professor emeritus of animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  “This experiment was also an excellent example of international collaboration between six countries that was necessary for the success of the study.”

Siegel, along with Ben Dorshorst and Christa Honaker, also in the Virginia Tech Department of Animal and Poultry SciencesDepartment of Animal and Poultry Sciences, were co-authors on the paper.

The pedigree lines of White Plymouth Rock chickens were developed by Siegel, who began breeding them in 1957. From the common founder population, he produced two distinct lines of chickens selected for high- and low-body weight. Today, the high-weight line dwarfs its low-growth counterpart by an average of 12 times more by the time they reach the eight-week selection age.

In the latest experiment, researchers analyzed blood samples of chickens of the same generation using the most distantly related maternal lines to reconstruct how the mitochondrial DNA passed from mothers to daughters.

Mitochondria are specialized structures in the cells of animals, plants, and fungi that generate energy, synthesize proteins, and package proteins for transport to different parts of the cell and beyond.

Previously, estimates put the rate of change in a mitochondrial genome about 2 percent per million years,” Greger Larson, professor of archaeology at Oxford University, said in a news release. “At this pace we should not have been able to spot a single mutation in just 50 years, but in fact we spotted two.”

The sampling scheme yielded 385 mitochondrial transmissions that were analyzed for linkages within the mitochondrial DNA.

The rate of evolution was calculated by analyzing the number of observed mutations in the approximately 16,000 samples of mitochondrial DNA in the genome over 47 generations.

The scientists then reconstructed the maternal pedigree based on the mitogenome sequences.

“Our observations reveal that evolution is always moving quickly, but we tend not to see it because we typically measure it over longer time periods,” Larson said in the news release. “Our study shows that evolution can move much faster in the short term than we had believed from fossil-based estimates.”

The experiment also determined that mitochondria are not solely passed down from maternal lines. Strictly maternal inheritance has long been thought of as the characteristic of mitochondrial genomes.

“The thing everyone knew about mitochondria is that it is almost exclusively passed down the maternal line, but we identified chicks who inherited their mitochondria from their father,” said Michelle Alexander, lead author. This finding supports the theory that “paternal leakage” is not such a rare phenomenon.

This is not the first time the scientific community has benefited from the research done on Virginia Tech’s high- and low-body weight chicken lines.

A 2010 article in the scientific journal "Nature" highlighted a breakthrough in genetic studies of animal domestication, thanks in part to these two lines.

In 2010, the American Poultry Historical Society inducted Siegel into the American Poultry Association Hall of Fame, the industry’s top honor. In 2011, he was given an honorary doctorate from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

 

 

August 27, 2015 - Aviagen has announced it will continue its contribution to the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) through the CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program. 

Aviagen has presented the CPRC with a check for $25,000 in support of the program. This check represents the fourth in a series of annual sponsorships contributed to the CPRC since 2012, qualifying Aviagen as a Platinum sponsor of the program. 

Established in 2001, the CPRC creates and implements programs for poultry research throughout Canada. The goal of the CPRC’s research is to effect discoveries that lead to improved food safety through enhanced poultry nutrition. The programs also focus on heightened environmental safety measures. 

“The CPRC has made invaluable contributions to the success of Canada’s poultry industry. Vast components of the poultry value chain stand to benefit from the research conducted by the CPRC, including producers, feed suppliers, animal health care companies, processors, distributors and ultimately, consumers,” explains Scott Gillingham, Canadian 

Regional Business Consultant for Aviagen. “Aviagen is proud to support the organization’s research efforts and we look forward to continued collaboration in the future.” 

CPRC Executive Director Bruce Roberts, Ph.D., says he values Aviagen’s support of the council. “Aviagen has helped fund 29 projects, enabling us to address critical issues such as poultry welfare, alternatives to the use of antimicrobials in poultry production, poultry health food safety and the environment,” adds Roberts. “As a premier sponsor of the program, Aviagen assists the CPRC not only financially, but also through cooperation and sharing of ideas and expertise. In addition to its value add to the CPRC, Aviagen supports Canadian university research activities outside of the CPRC. For these reasons, Aviagen should be commended for its strong commitment to advancing the poultry industry on a global basis.” 

Roberts concludes that efforts are currently underway for considerable future marketing and expansion of the CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program.

July 17, 2015 - More than 100 delegates including 75 hatchery managers from across the United States and Canada took part in the first national hatchery conference hosted by Cobb in Memphis, Tennessee.

During the two day event there were presentations on 20 different aspects of hatchery management with speakers from 16 organizations, enabling delegates to learn and share with each other in the unique, cross-industry event.

Ben Green, hatchery specialist in the Cobb World Technical Support Team said in a release that the classroom setting allowed attendees to share experiences and put questions to Cobb personnel, industry vendors and other hatchery managers.

In addition to hearing presentations covering topics from sanitation, maintenance and importance of vaccination to industry trends and animal welfare, delegates were able to visit the booths of 11 different vendors, which included: Jamesway, Merial, Smithway, Zoetis, Clearview, KL Automation, Ivesco, Incubation Systems, Chickmaster, Hatchery Planning and CID Lines.

Scott Martin, hatchery specialist in the Cobb World Technical Support Team said that Cobb set out to have the conference cover areas that everyone is interested in and curious about. He said audience engagement was high, witnessed by the number and type of questions attendees asked and the interesting discussions held after each presentation.  

 

July 1, 2015 - Hendrix Genetics and NPM Capital, a subsidiary of family-owned, SHV Holdings, have completed an agreement that will advance the animal breeding sector. Through the issue of new shares, NPM has become a 25 per cent minority shareholder in Hendrix Genetics, alongside existing shareholders. The Hendrix Family remains the majority and controlling shareholder.

Hendrix Genetics will continue to conduct its business under its current corporate governance and with its existing management team, strategy and structure. Its Vision 2020 plan, created last year, identified many opportunities to invest in R&D, capacity expansion and acquisitions to continue the company’s growth of the last decade. The equity of NPM/SHV will enable Hendrix Genetics to accelerate the execution of its ambitious plan.

Antoon van den Berg, CEO, Co-Shareholder and Co-Founder of Hendrix Genetics commented: “We are privileged as the Management Team of Hendrix Genetics, to have shareholders that fully support the accelerated execution of our ambitions. The fact that we continue to be family-controlled ensures passion and quick decision-making, which is essential to our company’s future.”

Jeroen Drost, CEO of NPM Capital, stated: “We discovered in Hendrix Genetics an ambitious company with dedicated shareholders, capable management and an excellent track-record in building a sound platform for industry consolidation. Their mission to help the world meet the growing demand for food, making animal protein production more efficient, affordable and sustainable perfectly fits our company ethos.”

International Advisory Board

Michel Boucly, member of the International Advisory Board since 2008, will step down per July 1, 2015 and will be succeeded by Cyril Melin, Investment Director of Sofiprotéol.

New member of the International Advisory Board, Investment Director of NPM Capital, Johan Terpstra sees clear benefits: “The strategic and cultural fit of Hendrix Genetics with NPM/SHV was clear from the onset and we look forward to partnering with existing shareholders and management to assist the growth of Hendrix Genetics in the years to come.”

April 6, 2015 - Two senior appointments have been made by Cobb-Vantress to strengthen its research and development team. 

Dr. Anu Frank-Lawale, who has wide experience across a range of species, joins the team as pedigree geneticist, while Dr. Frank Siewerdt moves from this role to become director of genetics responsible for the Cobb genetic program.

Dr. Anu Frank-Lawale is based at the Three Springs pedigree farm in Oklahoma, where he will be responsible for the selection program in several commercial and experimental lines.  He studied animal breeding at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh in the UK, and went on to gain a PhD for work on aquaculture genetics at Stirling University. 

He worked as a biometrician at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, and then in 2007 moved to the United States as breeding research manager for the Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center at Virginia Institute of Marine Science.  

Dr. Frank Siewerdt now has a team of seven PhD geneticists and a business engineer working with other areas of R&D and the business units to continue genetic progress on existing Cobb products and developing new ones to meet market needs. 

He joined Cobb three years ago as the inaugural geneticist at the new Dry Creek complex in Deer Lodge, Tennessee, and became responsible for the genetic program in two of the pedigree farms.  Originally qualifying from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, Dr Siewerdt obtained his PhD from North Carolina State University in the USA and has worked for more than 20 years in academic and industry positions including four years with Heritage Breeders / Perdue Farms.

November 23, 2014 - A project launched in 2008 to map the entire turkey genome is nearing completion, with more than 95 per cent of the genome sequence now in place.  The results of the current work, which has relied primarily on the use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, should prove valuable for studying and subsequently enhancing economically important traits in poultry, according to a recent article in Poultry Science that provides details about the project.

 
Intense genetic selection for increased growth rate, meat yield, and growth efficiency, has enhanced the turkey industry's ability to roughly double its U.S. annual production of turkeys over the last 30 years to almost 300 million birds, while supplying more value to consumers.  During this same period of time, a number of economically challenging consequences have developed for producers.  These include increased skeletal problems, cardiac morbidity, reduced immune response to some pathogens, and some instances of meat quality issues, among others – all issues that have been, despite years of effort, difficult to address through conventional approaches to breeding.
 
Finding solutions to these kinds of challenges associated with heavily-muscled birds has been arduous due to scientists’ limited understanding of the complex genetic factors underlying them.  One benefit of the turkey genome project is that thorough knowledge of the genome sequence will provide a refined tool for improved understanding and, eventually, resolution of these issues.
 
“Providing a complete turkey genome sequence will benefit poultry breeders and producers in terms of finding solutions to disease resistance and numerous other problems.  It should also help improve nutrient utilization and reproductive success,” said Dr. Rami A. Dalloul, lead author of the article and associate professor, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech University.
 
In addition to benefiting the industry and consumers, the findings of the sequencing project will also help accelerate research in agricultural animal genomics.  The close homology between the chicken and turkey genomes will enable knowledge of the latter to be used as a resource to fill in current gaps in scientists’ knowledge of the chicken genome sequence, noted Dr. Dalloul.
 
The article, “Applying Next-Generation Sequencing to Solve Poultry Problems: Next-generation sequencing strategies for characterizing the turkey genome,” appeared in a recent issue of Poultry Science, a journal published by the Poultry Science Association (PSA).  PSA has made the full text of the article available for free download at http://ps.oxfordjournals.org/content/93/2/479.full.pdf+html.
 
Funding for the turkey genome sequencing project was provided primarily by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Animal Genome Program.

A joint project by Cobb Europe and the Roslin Institute has received a major funding boost from the UK’ s innovation agency, Innovate UK, for genome biobanking to optimize valuable broiler genetic stocks. Photo courtesy USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS).

September 20, 2014 - A joint project by Cobb Europe and the Roslin Institute in Scotland has been awarded a grant of almost £650,000 (US$ 1.07 million) from the UK’ s innovation agency, Innovate UK, for genome biobanking to optimize valuable broiler genetic stocks.

The award, under its Agri-Tech Catalyst programme, will fund cryopreservation and cutting-edge sequencing technologies to address food security and production efficiency. New stem cell preservation technology will be used to enable biobanking of pure lines to ensure these current genetic resources are available in the future. 

The project is projected to cost £815,904 (US$ 1.35 million) of £648,680 is being provided by the Innovate UK grant.  The work will also further mine the genome of Cobb poultry resources to understand the genetic drivers of key economic traits and exploit existing genetic variation to drive significant improvements in commercial performance for emerging markets. 

The award is made in the context of a need to double global poultry production in the next 25 years to meet growing demand for animal protein in the developing world.  Traditional commercial genetic resources will need to have the genetic potential to meet local environmental conditions, which include severe climate and disease challenge pressures. 

“Our investment and collaboration with the Roslin Institute represents a major initiative to address the genetic basis for improved breeder and broiler performance in an era of changing management programmes and an ever growing demand for animal protein,” said Dr Mitch Abrahamsen, Cobb-Vantress vice president of research and development.

“The awarding of funding from the UK government to support our collaboration is a significant recognition of the quality of the researchers involved and validation of our research strategies to assure food security and improving production efficiency.”  

Earlier this year it was announced that Cobb-Vantress is putting more than £600,000 (US$ 1 million) in a three-year joint research programme with the Roslin Institute facilitating collaboration on avian disease resistance, genome analysis and genome preservation. 

 

 

Each year, thousands of babies are born in the U.S. with craniofacial defects, from cleft lips and palates to more severe abnormalities of the face or head. Now new discoveries in chicken genetics and biology are shedding light on the basis of these abnormalities in both birds and humans.

The work, by a team including University of California, Davis, animal science professor Mary Delany, was made possible by information from the chicken genome sequence and a stock of rare chicken lines kept at UC Davis. The findings appear in the August issue of the journal Development.

The researchers focused on a mutation of the gene named talpid2, known to be associated with a number of congenital abnormalities, including limb malformations and cleft lip or palate.

They found that talpid2 -- like other limb and craniofacial mutations found in both humans and chickens -- is related to the malfunction of "cilia," tiny, hairlike structures on the surface of cells of the body.

Cilia play a vital role in passing along signals during development. When a gene mutation interferes with the normal structure and function of the cilia, it sets off a chain reaction of molecular miscues that result in physical abnormalities, in chickens or in people.

"Now that this new information is available, the talpid2 mutation can be expanded as a model for studying similar congenital abnormalities in humans including oral-facial defects, which affect many people around the world," said Delany, who also serves as executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Delany said that the findings also are significant for production of poultry and livestock, which are likewise vulnerable to genetic mutations that cause similar physical abnormalities.

The specialized genetic line of chickens used for this study is a member of a group of unique avian genetic resources maintained for decades by UC Davis.

"These lines are maintained for their value in carrying out studies by UC Davis researchers and the community of researchers in the U.S. and internationally who study developmental biology in higher organisms," Delany said. "The chicken offers researchers unique advantages because the embryo develops in the egg, and all stages of development are available for analysis."

She noted that, for the research team, the findings are particularly meaningful as they are being published during the 10th anniversary of the initial sequencing of the chicken genome.

"The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture embarked on a partnership to fund sequencing of the chicken genome precisely because of the value of the chicken as a model organism for studying human health and its significance around the world as a source of food protein in the form of eggs and meat," Delany said.

"This is a terrific example of the aspirational intention of the USDA and NIH sequencing partnership," she said.

Leading the study was Samantha A. Brugmann of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, with Elizabeth A. O'Hare, previously at UC Davis and now at the University of Maryland, Baltimore; Ching-Fang Chang and Elizabeth N. Schock, both of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; Jerry Dodgson of Michigan State University; Hans H. Chang of the USDA-ARS in Michigan; William M. Muir of Purdue University; and Richard E. Edelmann at Miami University, Ohio.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation, the John and Joan Fiddyment Endowment, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Animal Genome Research Support Program.

 

Minister Gerry Ritz announced that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) will contribute $4 million to Canadian poultry research under the AgriInnovation Program (AIP), part of Growing Forward 2.  The announcement was made at Kay House at the Arkell Poultry Research Station, University of Guelph on Feb. 18. Funding will support a Poultry Science Cluster, which CPRC will administer. CPRC was the recipient of funding for research for a previous Poultry Science Cluster under the first Growing Forward program that concluded March 31, 2013.

A “cluster” brings together multidisciplinary teams of scientists to solve complex problems and to create synergies in research efforts. It is a way to make the most of available resources and supports a strong business case for investing in Canadian poultry research. Pooling intellectual and financial resources to address issues of common interest is a powerful way to maximize the impact of our collective investment in research.

Total funding of almost $5.6 million, including industry contributions of $1.45 million and the balance from government, will support 17 research activities on four themes that reflect industry priorities as identified in the National Research Strategy for Canada’s Poultry Sector, available at www.cp-rc.ca under the Research tab. Cluster research themes include:

Poultry Infectious Diseases, as they impact poultry health and/or zoonosis (four activities).

Alternative Animal Health Products and Management Strategies that enhance avian immune function and mitigate the impact of infectious pathogens while displacing the need for traditional antimicrobials (four activities).

Poultry Welfare and Wellbeing throughout the production chain, as impacted by early immune function, bird harmony within various alternate farm production systems, bird stocking density, and the effects of temperature extremes during live bird transport (five activities).

Environmental Stewardship as impacted by emissions of particulate matter, ammonia and greenhouse gases and their effect on poultry, poultry workers and the industry’s environmental footprint (four activities).

Anticipated outcomes of the Cluster research include:

  • As an extension of work accomplished in the first Poultry Science Cluster, an increased understanding of the biology of necrotic enteritis (NE) and continued progress towards an effective vaccine that can be used to complement current NE-management strategies
  • Optimization and validation of a prototype avian influenza vaccine and vaccine delivery method developed in the first Cluster
  • Multimedia training tools on biosecurity principles and measures made available to Canadian poultry producers
  • Demonstration of several alternatives to traditional antimicrobials used in the poultry industry
  • Information for the egg layer industry on the impact of genetics and management on productivity and general wellbeing of hens in alternative production systems
  • Information for the broiler industry on strategies to monitor foot pad dermatitis and mitigate its effects
  • Information for the turkey industry and development of best practices regarding stocking density in the production setting and management of conditions during live transport
  • Further reductions of the environmental footprint of commercial poultry production

The 17 research activities will be conducted by 59 researchers from 24 organizations. These organizations include 11 universities (four international); five government departments (federal and provincial) representing both agriculture and human health; and eight companies involved in poultry research. Each research activity is led by a Principal Investigator from a Canadian university.

The Poultry Science Cluster provides capacity to resolve many current issues facing the poultry industry. The unique cooperation among scientists, industry partners and government departments across Canada will synergize efforts to address these issues. The scale of the Cluster allows for basic research and more near-term, applied studies that will provide both immediate answers and future information for the poultry and food industries, as well as factors impacting consumer wellbeing.

For more details on these or any other CPRC activities, please contact The Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks Street, Suite 1007, Ottawa, Ontario, K1R 7S8, phone: (613) 566-5916, fax: (613) 241-5999, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at www.cp-rc.ca. 


The membership of the CPRC consists of Chicken Farmers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Egg Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors’ Council. CPRC’s mission is to address its members’ needs through dynamic leadership in the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada, which may also include societal concerns.

February 26, 2014 - A three-year research agreement between Cobb-Vantress, Inc. and The Roslin Institute, at the University of Edinburgh, will facilitate collaboration on avian disease resistance, genome analysis and genome preservation. 

Cobb, a global leader in poultry genetics, is putting almost $1 million into avian research programs at The Roslin Institute to identify innovative ways to improve avian health as well as developing unique technologies to understand and preserve the current and heritage poultry genomes.

The investment creates a strategic partnership between Cobb and The Roslin Institute that leverages each world class entity’s strengths. Mitch Abrahamsen, Cobb vice president of research and development, stated: “This research partnership provides a wonderful opportunity for Cobb to continue a close collaborative relationship with The Roslin Institute and their new National Avian Research Facility (NARF)

“The continued financial investments by The Roslin Institute in people and infrastructure demonstrate their commitment to making significant contributions toward improving poultry health and capitalizing on the opportunities afforded by the ever expanding understanding of the chicken genome.”

The National Avian Research Facility recently opened a state-of-the-art facility with its focus in poultry research. Professor David Hume, director of The Roslin Institute, said of the new agreement: “The joint partnership with Cobb is an excellent example of the kind of industrial interactions that allow The Roslin Institute’s research to drive sustainable improvements in animal health and livestock productivity."

One of the applications of this joint partnership is an effort to develop new technology enabling pedigree or heritage lines to be maintained without the need to physically maintain the bird stock. In addition, several projects will investigate DNA markers in the genome, targeting some of the more difficult to select for traits such as avian immunity, disease tolerance and disease resistance. 

“These are exciting new areas which we hope will lead to major breakthroughs in avian health and preservation.” said Dr Christine Daugherty, chief technology officer of Cobb.

“Cobb has an extensive gene pool and to be able to better understand the poultry genome will be critical to meeting future demands for poultry products. We’re always striving to breed more robust chickens that will withstand disease and environmental challenges.   We’re looking for birds with greater immunity to diseases or with the ability to tolerate disease without affecting their performance.”

The collaboration will support research by graduate students and is for an initial three years, with potential for renewal.   The agreement with The Roslin Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is one of more than                    30 research projects that Cobb has been supporting in 18 different universities across the globe over the past five years. 

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