A protein found in a Danish strain of egg layers may be responsible for a significant boost in poultry immune systems, according to a project at Danish research institute Aarhus University funded in part by Cobb

The €2.3 million project, contributed to by both the Danish government (€1.55 million) and Cobb (€350,000), focuses on the genes of Hellevad chickens, which have the protein mannose-binding lectin at two to three times higher levels than other breeds. The MBL protein has developed a reputation as a pathogen detector — binding to mannose and other sugars on the pathogen surface and triggering the immune system to destroy viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Researchers hope to identify the gene or combination of genes responsible for MBL levels. 

“We’re excited to be involved in this project as the continual improvement of the innate immune system in our commercial broilers is a key focus of our research program," said Dr. Mitch Abrahamsen, Cobb vice president of research and development. Cobb is currently working to determine the MBL genotypes of its pure line breeding stock and validate the role of the protein in enhancing immunity against diseases such as salmonella and E coli.