Pan-European research has shown there is a specific gene associated with better quality bones in laying hens.
Hens with the gene, named cystathionine beta synthase (CBS), had bones with raised mineral content and cross-linking of collagen protein, suggesting that these factors may be important for the differences in bone quality.
The keelbone of layers are prone to damage, especially in aviary systems. Photo: Hans Banus
Scientists from Sweden, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, the UK and China, looked in detail at a region of chicken DNA, which was known from previous studies to be linked to risk of bone fractures. They studied generations of hens, looking at the level of activity in genes and the strength of the hens’ bones. They believe the discovery will not only inform selective breeding but may also lead to better health in hens that lay eggs, which are at risk of osteoporosis.
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Professor Ian Dunn, of the Roslin Institute, said: “Hens that produce eggs, especially those that are free-range, carry a risk to their bones because of the resources they need for laying. “Our findings highlight the importance of a key gene, CBS, for healthy bones. Further work may show whether other nearby gene on the chicken genome are also of significance.”
The study has been published in Genetics Selection Evolution.