Genetics

News 2948 views update:Mar 9, 2016

Breeding for climate change

A team of researchers from US University of Delaware travelled to Africa in 2012 to search for exemplary chickens that could survive a hotter planet.

They were backed by millions of dollars from the US government, racing to develop new breeds of farm animals that can stand up to the hazards of global warming.  Some climate-change activists dismiss the work, which is just getting underway, as a distraction and a concession to industrial-style agriculture, which they blame for compounding the world's environmental problems. The researchers however, say new, heat-resistant breeds of farm animals will be essential to feeding the world as climate change takes hold.

"In agriculture, we are dealing with the challenge of difficult weather conditions at the same time we have to massively increase food production to accommodate larger populations and a growing demand for meat", according to US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

That means efforts like trying to map the genetic code of African naked-neck chickens to find out if their ability to withstand heat can be bred into broiler flocks .

"The game is changing since the climate is changing," according to researcher Carl Schmidt. "We have to start now to anticipate what changes we have to make in order to feed  the estimated 9 billion global population in  2050".

Warmer temperatures can create huge problems for animals like turkeys as these are vulnerable to a condition that makes their breast meat mushy and unappetizing.

"It's a big problem when it happens," said Gale Strasburg, a professor of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University whose quest is to develop more robust turkeys. "Within a day or two after the heat wave hits, you will go from there being no problem at all on a farm to 40% of turkey breasts having a problem. If we start seeing a lot more shifts in summer temperature extremes, there is going to be more of this," he said.

Strasburg's research involves turning up the heat lamps several degrees on hundreds of turkey chicks, as well as on turkey eggs before they hatch. Researchers will then study the animals' muscles and attempt to parse out genes that could help the animals endure hotter environments. The hope is ultimately to enable the industry to breed turkeys resilient to heat waves.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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