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Technical Resources

Genetic revolution: What have we learned so far?


Poultry production has improved remarkably in the last five decades. Behind the progress in the broiler and layer industries is an impressive increase of genetic potential of commercial birds used for meat or egg production. A pivotal moment for the evolution of the poultry industry was the diversification of genetic stock developed and selected for meat production vs. egg production. In addition, the genetic improvement of commercial poultry products relies not only on a robust evaluation program, whose core component is the intense selection process for key economic traits; but also an overall breeding program, which includes a pyramidal gene flow that uses hybridization along the multiplication stages. This multiplication process not only magnifies the genetic impact of elite animals at the top of the pyramid, but it also exploits the combining ability and complementarity of the different pure lines used in the paternal and maternal sides of the final commercial crossbred birds. Poultry production will play an increasing role in providing good quality and affordable animal protein to the growing global population thanks to its greater sustainability when compared with other livestock species. Reaching the complex societal requests will be achieved by further increasing complexity of breeding programs, more sophisticated data collection of animal welfare associated phenotypes and genomic features combined with advanced analytical methods for best accuracy of predicted breeding values. Genomic selection is delivering increase of genetic progress in poultry programs. Genomics has evolved to include medium density chips to more recently whole genome sequence, all enabled by significant cost reduction. Contrary to the original expectations, practical implementation of genomic selection requires continual collection of good quality genotypes and phenotypes, and model retraining to maximize its benefits. In the future, we may rely on advance technologies, such as vision-devices combined with artificial intelligence to process big data for real-time collection, enabling tracking of bird movements, utilization of nests, and predict health issues. The use of advanced molecular and reproductive techniques is possible but contingent on consumer acceptance and governmental regulations that will not be discussed herein.

Breeding companies, for broilers and layers, are implementing complex and sophisticated genetic poultry programs, which balance productivity and fitness traits, and keep in perspective consumer demands, public perception, and the need to ensure sustainable and welfare friendly production systems, while controlling the cost of production of poultry protein for the increasing human population.