NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers from Purdue University, the US Department of Agriculture, the Netherlands-based poultry breeding company Hendrix Genetics and the Arkansas-based poultry breeding company Cobb-Vantress are launching the first whole genome-based breeding program, Purdue announced today.
Bill Muir, an animal sciences researcher at Purdue, is co-directing the research project, which is aimed at determining whether there is a benefit to using information from the entire chicken genome to guide chicken breeding.
The team plans to test new techniques for selecting desirable — but not highly heritable — traits such as bone density, productivity, overall well-being, feed efficiency, yield and egg quality, growth, and disease resistance. To do this, they’ll apply whole-genome selection to breeding by extracting DNA from chick blood and calculating each bird’s breeding value based on some 60,000 SNPs.
“Finding individual genes responsible for these traits is terribly difficult,” Muir said in a statement. “Our solution is to use a genomics strategy that is effective because it gets us simultaneously close to all genes and for all possible traits.”
By testing such an approach in chickens, which have a short gestation period, the researchers say they will be able to see whether the approach improves breeding accuracy and efficiency and then determine whether it should be applied to other species as well.
“Poultry has the shortest generation interval of the major agricultural species,” Muir said, “and improvements in poultry breeding have tremendous economic potential.” Poultry production has reportedly increased more than five times in the past four decades, and the US is thought to be the largest poultry exporter in the world.
The USDA is providing $2.5 million to fund the research, while Hendrix Genetics and Cobb-Vantress are chipping in an additional $2.5 million. The two companies are also contributing birds, facilities, and labor worth an estimated $5 million.
Hendrix supplies about half of the chickens used for egg production around the world. Cobb-Vantress, meanwhile, supplies about half of the broilers.