25 October 2018. Throughout Africa, chickens are vital to family nourishment, income and food security. But African poultry production is threatened by an extremely virulent Newcastle disease virus that can decimate entire flocks within days.

UC Davis researchers are leading an international effort to identify genes crucial to breeding chickens with enhanced resistance to Newcastle disease and heat stress. Their project–the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry–recently received a $5 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to continue its work improving poultry production in Africa and throughout the world.

“This project will help protect chickens from deadly Newcastle disease in areas where poultry vaccinations are not feasible, as well as boost the effectiveness of vaccinations. Increasing the production of chicken and eggs can have a dramatic impact on nourishment and livelihoods in poor, rural communities.” Huaijun Zhou, the UC Davis geneticist and animal science professor. Zhou is program director of the innovation lab and the U.S. national poultry genome coordinator. 

Devastating Newcastle disease

  • Newcastle disease is the number one avian virus on the continent. It’s highly contagious and kills about 750 million chickens annually in Africa alone. The disease is controlled through vaccinations in the U.S. and other developed countries, but many families in rural villages don’t have access to reliable vaccines.
  • One of the most difficult aspects of the project is that disease and heat resistance, as well as production and growth rate, are complex traits, which means they are controlled by many genes working together.
  • The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry was launched in 2013 with a $6 million award from USAID. With this new five-year, $5 million award, the team will continue to hone in on genes of interest.

This post was originally published at PAEPARD by François Stepman. It has been republished here with permission.

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