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Breeding resistant chickens for improved safety

Hopes are high that a new test developed by US scientists could make it easier to breed pathogen-resistant chickens.

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Texas have identified roosters whose blood contains naturally high levels of two key chemicals, cytokines and chemokines, which mobilise the birds’ innate immune response.

Using the new tests, commercial poultry breeders can single out roosters that have a strong immune response and use them to selectively breed a more robust flock. Such resistance, particularly during the birds’ first week of life, may lower costs related to animal well-being and food safety.

Photo: Bart Nijs
Photo: Bart Nijs

Christi Swaggerty, ARS microbiologist, said protecting chickens from pathogens involves sanitation, vaccination, biosecurity and use of antibiotics and other medications. But some chickens have an especially robust and efficient immune response and can resist pathogens.

The researchers used the test to select roosters for breeding a line of resistant broilers. They then exposed the resistant broilers to several pathogens and compared the resistant group to a group of susceptible broilers bred from roosters with low cytokine and chemokine levels.

The results, published in Poultry Science, showed that the susceptible broilers had more pathogens and signs of infection than the resistant group. Ultimately, such resistance could mean fewer pathogens remaining on birds at the processing plant and improved consumer safety, according to Ms Swaggerty.

She and colleagues study the genetics of chickens’ resistance to foodborne disease causing pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Some species of these two bacteria together cause 2-3 million US cases of foodborne illness in consumers and 450-500 deaths annually.

Another poultry disease, Coccidiosis, is caused by a single-celled parasite Eimeria. In the US, the disease inflicts annual production losses of up to $800m, making this intestinal disease a significant threat to nearly 9 billion US meat-type birds.


  • Is it possible to get a link to the article??

  • Tony Mcdougal

    Further info <>

  • gubbi lokanath

    The magnitude of genetic resistance to the disease/s concerned, family selection of resistant types, will aid to breed and further develop the desirable lines. Elite lines can be formed with strict selection. Cytogenetic studies and serological assays of the cytokines and chemokines at juvenile ages or around the time when the disease/s appear will be great assets as gene markers to develop disease resistant varieties besides reducing the time involved in development.

  • gubbi lokanath

    Further to my comments on 3rd Nov, may I add that after initial development of the resistant varieties based on the levels of cyto/chemokines at an early age, inter-breeding of the resistant stains in comparison to simultaneously raised susteptible varieties raised /available varieties will throw a light on the progress of the development made.

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