Using genomics to characterize and maintain genetic variation in heritage chicken breeds

Funding Details
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Grant type: Engage Grants Program
  • Year: 2018/19
  • Total Funding: $25,000
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Project Summary

In the past 50 years, poultry production has seen a steep increase in productivity due to rigorous trait selection*by breeders. The resulting modern strains are well suited to survive under commercial conditions where*management (e.g., vaccination, controlled environment, antibiotics, nutrition) plays a large role in the*efficiencies of production. At the same time, consumers are increasingly interested in production practices*(e.g., including antimicrobial resistance) and in maintaining their own backyard flocks. A concern that arises*with this 'old is new' again practice of backyard flocks is that commercial strains have been developed to thrive*under commercial settings, and there may be animal welfare, food safety, and environmental sustainability*concerns in these environments. Heritage lines of chickens (e.g., breeds of chickens maintained, unselected)*played a large role in the evolution of the poultry industry in Canada. The "Rare Poultry Conservancy Program"*was started in 1965 involving six breeds of chickens. These populations as well as two additional heritage*breeds are housed at the Poultry Research Centre at the University of Alberta. This project will use genomics to*characterize the genetic variation of the heritage strains at the PRC and develop a breeding strategy to optimize*the maintenance of genetic diversity and optimal genetic contributions in the heritage strains. In doing so, this*project will assist the Canadian poultry industry in pursuing progressive production practices while ensuring*that farmers have the capacity to capitalize on value-added markets, at home and internationally.