To Breed a Better Bird

A quick and cheap way of mapping the turkey genome may lead to more precise livestock farming methods

Arthur Morris Corbis

Geneticists are working hard to grow a tastier, more healthful Thanks­giving bird. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have mapped nearly 90 percent of the domestic turkey genome, which could help breeders produce improved meat in greater, cheaper quantities. Within the next three to five years the new map will allow farmers to take blood samples from young birds, extract DNA, and screen it for desirable genes, such as those for high fertility, resistance to disease, reduced fat and greater proportion of white meat. The genome-aided process would be more efficient than natural selection, which farmers practice now and which requires them to wait until turkeys mature to observe these characteristics and select for them.

The mapping team was the first to combine two next-generation platforms that allowed for the analysis of short fragments and long strands of DNA simultaneously, saving time and money. The breakthrough heralds genome maps for more farm animals in the future.

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