AFRICA – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded US$5 million grant to University of California – Davis to aid in tackling the Newcastle disease on the continent.

According to GNA, the funding will go towards a project that is looking to identify genes that are crucial to breeding birds with enhanced resistance to Newcastle Disease and heat stress.

The project, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry, will protect birds in areas where poultry vaccinations are not feasible, as well as boost the effectiveness of vaccinations.

It targets to improve nutrition and livelihoods of people living in poor, rural communities by increasing the production of chicken and eggs through efficient poultry keeping.

Led by Huaijun Zhou, the US geneticist and animal science professor, the international multidisciplinary team will help develop genes resistant to Newcastle disease by using genetics and genomics to improve host immunity to Newcastle Disease infection.

“We’re working to identify genes or genetic markers associated with resistance to Newcastle Disease and heat stress, as well as genetic markers related to egg production and growth rate.

This genomic approach won’t replace vaccinations, but rather complement them by providing enhanced immunity,” said Zhou.

According to him, one of the most difficult aspect of the project is that disease and heat resistance, as well as production and growth rates, are complex traits, which mean they are controlled by many genes working together.

“Each gene involved tends to contribute a small genetic effect, making them hard to detect. It is a tremendous challenge.

“We have already identified hundreds of genetic markers associated with Newcastle Disease resistance and heat resilience, and there is more work to be done.”

To facilitate the programme, facilities in Tanzania and Ghana have been renovated and a market assessment and business models are being carried to scale up the project.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to improve Poultry was launched in 2013 with an initial US$6 million award from USAID.