Scientists study obesity and chickens
Scientists are looking at ways of helping growers efficiently produce
chickens of optimal weight while minimising excess fat.
Agricultural Research Service scientists (*) recently identified and
sequenced genes responsible for regulating both energy use by individual cells
and the food intake of birds. They also showed that the genes function in
different tissues throughout the body of the broiler chicken.
This biochemical pathway maintains energy balance in the bird's body. A key
component of the pathway is an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase, or
In animals, obesity results from an imbalance when more food energy
(calories) is consumed than the body needs. Excess energy is stored mostly as
fat. Over the years, poultry breeders have bred chickens that grow faster and
produce more meat. But, according to the researchers, modern broiler/breeder
chickens don't adequately balance their feed consumption to match their energy
requirements, so when the birds are given unrestricted access to feed, they will
overeat and become obese.
AMPK plays a central role in sensing cellular energy levels. It begins a
series of events that affect food intake and metabolism of fat, carbohydrate and
According to animal scientists Monika Proszkowiec-Weglarz, AMPK is really a
â€œmolecular fuel gaugeâ€ and a master metabolic regulator in cells. It responds to
fluctuations in the levels of cellular energy and of specific nutrients and
hormones outside the cells.
* ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory in Beltsville,
Md., animal scientists Monika Proszkowiec-Weglarz and Mark Richards, along with
research leader John McMurtry and Penn State University collaborator Ramesh
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