'Epigenetics' could have huge impact on poultry industry

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DUNBOYNE, Ireland – More than 130 poultry nutritionists and industry professionals recently attended Alltech’s Poultry Epigenetics Seminar in Dunboyne, Ireland, to discuss epigenetics (the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence), the future of the poultry industry and the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050.

“Food security is in danger and it is paramount that agricultural policy changes to recognize the perfect storm brewing on the horizon,” said Aidan Connolly, Alltech vice president of corporate accounts. “There is a tremendous gap between genetic potential and what we are achieving in the field. Nutrition must use new approaches to bridge the gap.”

Key messages from each of the five speakers:
• “There is a limit to the genetic potential of an animal. If resources can then be allocated appropriately for that animal, away from maintenance, this leaves more available for growth.” – Dr. Chris Ashwell, Department of Poultry Science, NC State Univ.
• “There are three main implications for the requirements for vitamins and antioxidants: developing new feeding strategies using gene expression analysis to optimize the use of expensive ingredients, understanding dietary effects and the hidden effects of nutrition and providing an explanation of production responses.” – Dr. James Pierce, director of research, Alltech, adjunct assistant professor, Univ. of Kentucky.
• “Supplements to the mother’s diet don’t always lead to benefits for the child. In addition if you are born small it is better to stay small early on, accelerated early growth increases risk of adiposity later on.” -- Dr. Susan Ozanne, British Heart Foundation Senior Fellow, Univ. of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories, UK.
• “Taking control of genetics, independent of Mendelian inheritance, moves us beyond simple breeding programs and provides new nutritional tools to enhance productivity. This is done by using nutrition to define epigenetic controls, nutritional interactions and to redefine nutrient requirements, allowing animals to reach their genetic potential.” – Dr. Karl Dawson, Alltech vice president and chief scientific officer.
• “Straightforward optimization is not as simple as it looks. With micro arrays and gene expression, we can improve our understanding of physiological responses.” – Dr. Jan Dirk van der Klis, Schothorst Feed Research, Lelystad, The Netherlands.

One-hundred thirty nutritionists attended the seminar. Of those surveyed:

• Forty-nine indicated their awareness of epigenetics is due to Alltech’s Poultry Epigenetics seminar; 71 percent believe it will impact greatly on bird health, bird efficiency and product quality.
• More than half believe the price of feed will increase by more than 10 percent in the next 12 months.
• Sixty-eight percent think research findings on epigenetics will be important to optimize poultry production in the next five years; however, they are undecided on the level that feed conversion ratio can be improved by 2040.
• Regarding optimizing chick quality, 50 percent believe the poultry industry is not currently exploiting all possibilities in breeder nutrition.
• Sixty-one percent felt very strongly the industry is not doing enough to attract young talent to the poultry sector.
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