The recently-formed alliance between multi-species breeding company Hendrix Genetics (Boxmeer, The Netherlands) and the broiler breeding company Cobb-Vantress Inc. (Siloam Springs, Arkansas, USA) is to become the first in the world to implement genomic selection in poultry breeding.

The use of this new technology is a breakthrough in animal breeding. The selection of pedigree stock through analysis of DNA from the whole genome will provide accurate and rapid results, enabling significant genetic improvement. Such progress—hard to realize using traditional breeding methods—will now be feasible for disease resistance, animal health and welfare traits.

The field evaluation begins on October 1, 2008, and will run for a period of four years. In addition to the breeding companies Cobb-Vantress and Hendrix Genetics, a consortium of leading universities and institutes in a number of countries will be involved in this project. Genomic selection will also be implemented in the other breeding divisions of Hendrix Genetics.

This new field of research is based on previous in-house and collaborative DNA research performed at Hendrix Genetics and Cobb-Vantress. The animals with the best traits will be selected based on 60,000 genetic markers (called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNP’s) and with the assistance of DNA chip technology.

Hendrix Genetics will perform the field evaluation of the technology for layers, and Cobb-Vantress for broilers. Both companies have the birds, facilities and the expertise to carry out this large-scale project. The universities and institutes will support the project with their knowledge of quantitative genetics and DNA technology to assist efficient implementation of the project.

In the current breeding programs, pedigree stock selection is based on the performance of individual birds, of their offspring and of extended family members relating to factors such as feed and management. The data are evaluated and the best birds chosen for the breeding program. With the new DNA technology, a small drop of blood from a bird will yield data for predicting performance of the offspring. Besides the improvements in speed, accuracy, product quality and consistency, the new method will provide a much better understanding of health and welfare traits important to the future of the global poultry industry.

In this DNA selection project, a unique consortium of industry, universities, research institutes and government will combine their expertise and work together towards the goal of implementing genomic selection in poultry breeding. In collaboration with Hendrix Genetics and Cobb-Vantress, leading scientific groups will assume responsibility for parts of the project. Dr. Hans Cheng of the USDA and Dr. William Muir of Purdue University, USA, have been nominated as the project directors.

Project parties include:

• Cobb-Vantress, Siloam Springs, Arkansas, USA

• Hendrix Genetics Research & Technology Centre, Boxmeer, The Netherlands

• U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), East Lansing, Michigan, USA

• Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, USA

• Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway

• INRA, Toulouse, France

• University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

• University of Alberta, Edmonton. Canada

• Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

• DNA LandMarks Inc., Montreal, Canada