Optimising chicken growth

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Researchers at the University of Maryland are studying the metabolism and liver function of embryonic chickens and hatchlings, which could result in a revolutionary breakthrough in poultry production.

The research-based on improving the efficiency of poultry production equally addresses the challenges in poultry health.

The findings could also lead to better treatments for diseases linked to high-fat diets.

The hatching process

The hatching of eggs refers to the production of baby chicks. In the early days, eggs were hatched by placing them under broody hens. Incubators, which provide a similar environment as that of broody hens, but more efficiently, have since been used presently for the hatching of eggs.

During this time, the birds undergo a major metabolic shift, transitioning from the fat-rich diet they received an embryo to a high carbohydrate diet.

The whole egg is a source of high-quality protein (i.e., proteins that contain all the amino acids).

All the fats or lipids, as well as the cholesterol, are found in the yolk. Yolk lipids are high in unsaturated fatty acids, with the ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids commonly being 2 to 1.

When the embryonic chicken develops, especially during the latter part of development, they start using the yolk lipids.

The research team will use tracer molecules, also known as stable isotopes, to track biochemical pathways to learn about the mechanisms of metabolic transition in embryonic chickens and hatchlings.

Understanding this transition could help researchers optimize nutrition and other strategies to promote better growth in chicks.

From a poultry industry and economic standpoint, that period of transition is when the metabolism is very flexible to changes. Insights into how the liver aids this metabolic transition in chickens could also result in better treatments for human metabolic diseases linked with high-fat diets, like diabetes or fatty liver disease.

The research is funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

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