Researchers publish turkey genome sequence

WASHINGTON — An international group of researchers published Tuesday a nearly complete genome sequence of the domesticated turkey, one of the main sources of meat in the United States.

Over 90 percent of the native North American bird’s genome sequence has been mapped so far, explained Virginia Tech assistant professor Rami Dalloul, one of the authors of the project that began mapping the turkey’s genetic blueprint in 2008.

Most of the data was derived from the 10 largest chromosomes, or macrochromosomes.

“We have already described thousands of genes previously unknown to avian scientists,” Dalloul said, noting that the sequences of the “Z” and “W” sex chromosomes, which were only poorly covered in the past, were also of interest.

“In the short term, the turkey genome sequence will provide scientists with knowledge of specific genes that are important in meat yield and quality, health and disease resistance, fertility and reproduction.”

The project’s researchers said that mapping the turkey’s genome sequence would help to better understand host-pathogen interactions between microbes, thus paving the way to improved prevention and treatment.

Producers would also be able to better breed turkeys with a desired texture, flavor and leanness for their consumers.

The genome sequence may have biomedical applications as well, said Virginia Tech animal and poultry sciences professor Ed Smith.

Smith is conducting research on an avian condition similar to human dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart grows weaker and enlarged and cannot efficiently pump blood.

Other members of the consortium as researchers, including Utah State University’s Roger Coulombe and Kent Reed at the University of Minnesota, are studying the effects of aflatoxins on domesticated turkeys, the known species most susceptible to these naturally occurring carcinogenic chemicals.

By using next-generation sequencing technology, the researchers were able to map the turkey genome sequence at a fraction of the cost incurred when scientists mapped that of the chicken in 2004.

The study was published in the PLoS Biology journal, with contributions by researchers from Austria, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

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