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Snapshot of poultry science captured in research chronicle

Fourth Report on Chicken Genes and Chromosomes collates a diverse body of work in a profile of scientific research. 

Chickens are the most popular livestock animal on Earth – from backyard birds to mass-produced pullets, the birds and their eggs are found in almost every society on our planet. 

The chicken’s importance as a key source of meat and egg protein drives much of the research into the species, to understand their health, productivity and welfare. 

In the field of animal science, the chicken was the first bird to have its entire genetic makeup determined, almost 20 years ago.  

It remains a leading species for research purposes, from evolutionary biology and embryology to epidemiology. 

Experts from around the world have now collaborated to produce the latest in a series of reports that act as a record of research into the species. 

Decades of research

The Fourth Report on Chicken Genes and Chromosomes has been published almost 20 years after the first in the series, which was produced before the first chicken genome had been sequenced. 

Dr Jacqueline Smith from the Roslin Institute collated the report, which outlines advances from recent years, and the impact of emerging technologies with potential to advance poultry bioscience. 

An exemplar of international collaboration, the issue includes 21 research papers, by a total of 124 authors representing 16 countries. 

It aims to serve as a snapshot of understanding in a field that has held significance for decades.  

Rich potential

As a model for scientific research, chickens are easy to breed and study, aided by their compact DNA code – potentially carrying a similar number of genes to human, but in a smaller genomic space.  

The latest report details genomic resources that have become available, largely owing to increasing technological capabilities, and looks towards a richer, fuller understanding of the avian genome. 

The fourth issue also describes cytogenetic work, which focuses on examination of bird chromosomes. 

It examines chicken research from a global perspective, and shines a light on the efforts of international collectives of researchers. The future focus will be in addressing grand challenges, such as food security and the impact of a changing climate. 

Technological advances

Poultry research is in a strong position, Dr Smith explains. Reference genomes are now available for red jungle fowl – the precursor to the modern chicken – as well as chickens bred for meat and laying eggs – all of which provide more relevant tools for all fields of avian research.  

The pace of technology has also supported knowledge-gathering and has opened new avenues for research, she adds. 

“By the time of this fourth report, we can almost decode thousands of genomes in an afternoon,” she says. 

Since the genome was first unravelled, details of the DNA in all kinds of poultry breeds have been described, creating a valuable resource for scientists and helping to usher in the next phases of poultry research. 

 We have details of thousands of genomes, ranging from populous breeds to localised breeds from all over the world, adapted to all sorts of conditions. 

Dr Jacqueline SmithRoslin Institute

“With this, we can look at every variation there is in the genome, and combine all these unique characteristics to create a sophisticated reference pan-genome. This global view of a species is the future direction of research,” Dr Smith explains. 

Single cell research is also gaining pace in poultry science – applying analytical techniques to individual cells – which is an emerging field that offers valuable complement to conventional methods, she adds. 

The report was created with the goodwill of the scientific community. “The open, friendly and collaborative approach was a big highlight,” she says. “This report has a wide pull – it creates insight beyond our own areas of interest, and serves as a valuable resource for many researchers.” 

The Fourth Report on Chicken Genes and Chromosomes 2022 is dedicated to the memory of Professor Michael Schmid of the University of Würzburg, who instigated and led the series from its first issue almost 20 years ago. 

Related links 

Fourth Report on Chicken Genes and Chromosomes 2022 

Image credit: Jason Leung on Unsplash