Newcastle disease is currently wiping chickens across the world in low-and-middle-income countries, areas where chicken farming play a crucial role in the overall economy. In fact, it is considered one of the biggest threats facing the poultry community today.
Led by a team of researchers from Penn State, the team may have found a means to help farmers combat this disease and this answer may be all in the genes.
The Fight Against Newcastle
How could these new genes help? By identifying the genes that could help these chickens survive researchers from Penn State believe that they could design various breeding strategies that produce flocks that are more resilient and more productive.
As mentioned by Vivek Kapur, professor of animal science and the Huck Distinguished Chair in Global Health, associate director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and an Institute for CyberScience associate:
"These local ecotypes of chickens have been running around backyards for hundreds of years, even in the face of constant exposure to Newcastle disease, so, evolutionarily, there's something innate that has enabled them to survive in this environment where the disease is endemic.”
“Using genomics and sophisticated analytical tools, we asked the question whether there are differences in specific genes expressed in backyard chickens that markers for lower susceptibility to Newcastle disease virus infection.
How bad can Newcastle get? A recent outbreak of Newcastle disease in Southern California has caused the deaths of more than 1.2 million chickens. Though there is a vaccine currently available for the disease the logistics are too complicated and costs to high, basically, impractical to use on a small flock.
As stated by Kapur, "If you have 20 chickens in your backyard, for example, you first have to find someone who will come give your flock the vaccine and there's a cost involved in that whole process and on top of that the vaccine has to be available.”
"The barriers, both real and perceptional, are therefore rather high for backyard farmers to vaccinate their chickens."
The new method could not only save countless chickens but alleviate much of the economic burden of farmers in low-income countries.