Quest to breed disease-resistant chickens

HOPES ARE high for selective breeding techniques which could improve natural disease resistance in broiler chickens.

The work is being carried out by poultry breeding specialists, Aviagen and Cobb-Vantress, together with the Institute for Animal Health and the Roslin Institute.

The £330,000 study, which is being co-funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through the Sustainable Livestock Production LINK programme, is the ?rst project of its kind in the UK.

The research, which started this year, is expected to last three years. Scientists are hoping to identify genetic markers responsible for controlling varia-tion in innate immune responses that could be incorporated into a selective breeding programme.

Determining the extent that genetic variability in?uences a chicken's innate immune response and improving its resistance to enteric diseases and food-borne pathogens, will be a key objective.

There is known genetic variation in resistance to both Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry. New knowledge on innate immune function will lead to new opportunities to identify genetic markers that could be used to de-tect chickens with the capacity to resist infection.

Project leader, Pete Kaiser, at the Institute for Animal Health, said: "Changes to poultry growing practices, such as moves to more extensive rearing systems and the withdrawal of certain drugs and an-tibiotics, are altering the balance of challenges on poultry health. It is important that poultry breed-ers are able to deliver stock improvement when birds are reared in such environments."

The research should con-tribute to improving the sus-tainability of the broiler chicken industry.