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Gene findings could help treat costly poultry virus

The discovery of regions of chicken DNA linked with resistance to Marek’s disease virus could inform ways to help tackle it.

The study provides a large number of potential targets for future therapies or techniques to manage Marek’s virus disease.

Scientists have identified genes strongly associated with resistance to a virus that causes cancer in poultry and costs the global poultry industry more than US$ 2 billion a year.

The study, relating to the highly contagious Marek’s disease virus, provides a large number of potential targets for future therapies or techniques to manage the disease.

Findings from the analysis also reveal details about the biology behind susceptibility to the virus, which could lead to more precise selective breeding strategies.

Outcomes from the research, led by the Roslin Institute, are the first to provide such a large-scale high-resolution analysis of genes underlying resistance to the virus in birds relevant to the poultry industry.

The tumours caused by Marek’s disease virus have similarities to human lymphoma, so the study may increase understanding of human cancers.

Strong genetic association

Scientists identified regions of chicken DNA that are seen to play a role in disease resistance.

Their multi-faceted approach included comparing the DNA of two groups of commercial egg-laying chickens which differed in their resistance to Marek’s disease virus.

They also analysed genetic information from infected chicks, and identified variations associated with resistance in the DNA of multiple commercial chicken lines.

Researchers additionally investigated genetic association with mortality in the infected offspring of egg-laying birds.

Scientists found various DNA elements that had a strong genetic association with resistance to the virus.

Marek’s disease is devastating to flocks worldwide as well as the economy, and current vaccination can only partially control it. Our study identifies regions of the genome associated with resistance, which could be used for mitigating the effects of the virus through selective breeding, improved vaccine design, or future gene-editing technologies.

Dr Jacqueline SmithStudy lead, Roslin Institute

The study is published in the journal Genes and was carried out in collaboration with Hy-Line International and supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

** The Roslin Institute is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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