Researchers from the Centre of Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH) were part of a team that has shown that birds from two distinct indigenous chicken populations (ecotypes) in Ethiopia share several genetic regions linked to important productivity and disease resistance traits.
This was the first time that scientists have studied genetic data from different African ecotypes collectively.
They wanted to know if it would be feasible to analyze combined genetic data from different chicken ecotypes. If pooling genetic datasets is possible, then researchers could work with bigger datasets, which would help improve the effectiveness of genomic selection.
Studying combined ecotype datasets
Researchers studied the DNA of over 700 indigenous African village chickens from two distinct parts of Ethiopia. The two groups (ecotypes) of birds lived in very different environmental conditions; one ecotype lived in a high altitude, humid region of Ethiopia, whilst the other ecotype was from a lowland arid part of the country.
Despite being from very different environments, researchers identified significant similarities in the genetic markers associated with important production traits.
Using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data, researchers also found putative candidate genes for resistance to Infectious Bursal Disease, Marek’s Disease and Fowl Typhoid as well as for Eimeria and cestode parasite infections.
Potential for genomic selection
The study, published in Frontiers in Genetics, involved CTLGH scientists from all three of its strategic partners; the Roslin Institute, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), as well as collaborators at the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Liverpool.
Dr Androniki Psifidi, a Roslin Institute researcher during the study, now based at the Royal Veterinary College, led this work. She was optimistic that analyzing across-ecotype genetic data could help speed up the process of genomic selection in indigenous African chicken populations. She commented:
“This study was the outcome of an interdisciplinary effort from scientists in multiple research institutes. Our study contributes to better understanding the dynamics and potential of indigenous African genetic resources for the benefit of poultry farming. We hope that the message conveyed by the present work will promote future collaborations across different regions.”
Professor Georgios Banos from SRUC added that the identification of potential markers for key traits in indigenous African poultry populations could have huge implications for improving their health, productivity and resilience in the future. He commented:
“We are very excited with these results and plan to continue our work on improving chicken productivity and farm sustainability. Chicken production has and will always have a multifaceted role in alleviating hunger and poverty, and enhancing social structures and quality of life in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Professor Olivier Hanotte from ILRI Addis Ababa and the University of Nottingham added:
“This study is another illustration on how rapidly livestock have been able to successfully adapt to new environments. Over 3,000 years, the African village chicken has won the many challenges imposed by natural selection.”
This study was part of a larger project led by the University of Liverpool and was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Scottish Government and CTLGH.