Researchers breed pathogen-resistant chickens

December 28, 2017

On a poultry farm, there’s no substitute for a strong biosecurity program when it comes to fighting pathogens. However, a new blood test for chickens could make farmers’ battles against bacteria a little easier.

The U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has developed a test that identifies roosters with naturally high levels of two immune response-boosting chemicals: cytokines and chemokines. With such a test, poultry breeders can use the roosters with the strongest immune systems to breed future generations of birds that fight off bacteria better than their ancestors.

“Such resistance, especially during the birds’ first week of life, may lower costs related to animal well-being and food safety,” said the ARS.

To determine how reliable the test is, the researchers used it to single out roosters for breeding a line of pathogen-resistant broiler chickens. The offspring were exposed to multiple pathogens, as were broilers bred from roosters with low cytokine and chemokine levels. The two broiler groups were compared, and the more susceptible chickens did indeed show more signs of infection than the ones that had been bred to be more resistant

Chickens are associated especially with the bacteria Salmonella — which causes over two million cases of foodborne illness a year in the U.S. alone — and bacteria that gives chickens the intestinal disease coccidiosis, which costs the poultry industry hundreds of millions in losses annually. Broilers that resist these bacteria would save consumers a lot of sickness, and save the industry a lot of dollars.


Although bacteria-resistant chickens would be a huge benefit to the poultry industry, keeping pathogens from entering the farm will always be a top concern for farmers.

Biosecurity is the set of best practices used by farmers to protect animals and people from pathogens. Good biosecurity programs rely on tools such as cleaners and disinfectants, rodenticides and insecticides, vaccines, antibiotics and of course, good old human caution to avoid spreading germs. With good biosecurity programs, poultry producers can avoid the spread of Salmonella, coccidiosis, avian flu and other health concerns.

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