Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab Works Toward the Goal of Resilient, Productive Poultry Production for Smallholder Farmers
This post is written by Terra Kelly and Huaijun Zhou, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry
Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab (GIP IL) seeks to improve the production of chicken by households and small farmers, and thereby improve food security, nutrition, and livelihoods in Africa, specifically targeting Ghana and Tanzania— key goals of the Feed the Future Program. This effort is led by UC Davis in collaboration with Iowa State University (ISU), University of Ghana (UoG), Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), Tanzania, and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
Newcastle disease (ND) is the number one constraint of raising poultry in Africa, causing mortality as high as 80 percent among village chicken flocks in rural communities. The program is applying advanced genetics and genomics to sustainably enhance innate resistance to Newcastle disease in indigenous chickens to improve production by small farmers and households in Africa. The GIP IL has developed a comprehensive genetic selection platform with the goal of breeding African indigenous chicken strains that are more resilient in the face of ND Virus (NDV) outbreaks for use by household producers and small farmers. In addition, the program has developed cutting-edge, sequencing technology using a real-time, portable RNA/DNA sequencing device to evaluate the burden of NDV in Ghana and Tanzania in order to improve our understanding of the epidemiology of NDV. To ensure the uptake and sustainability of these innovations, the program is conducting outreach to diverse stakeholder groups across Africa, including research agencies, NGOs, farmer associations and private organizations.
Portable Real-time Device for Sequencing Opens New Doors for Characterizing Newcastle Disease Viruses Causing Outbreaks in Poultry in Africa
Newcastle disease is one of the most important poultry diseases worldwide. Outbreaks of the virulent form of NDV are associated with high morbidity and mortality rates of up to 100% in domestic fowl and can lead to annual losses of up to 80% of backyard chickens raised in regions where it is endemic. It is a particular threat to food security in low-income African and Asian countries where chickens are an important source of protein and income.
Although vaccination against NDV can reduce mortality among village flocks, sustainable ND vaccination programs are difficult to implement, especially in rural areas with limited extension services. Furthermore, NDV vaccines do not provide complete protection against virulent strains of the virus. As a result, sub-optimally vaccinated birds can become a substrate for viral shedding, perpetuating the cycle of transmission.
While not as dramatic as other RNA viruses, ND viruses are a genetically diverse and rapidly evolving group of viruses with new virulent genotypes emerging every year. This genetic diversity increases the risk of detection and vaccination failures with greater viral shedding into the environment by infected birds. On-going surveillance, characterization of circulating strains, and virulence prediction are therefore key to ensuring that diagnostic platforms can accurately and rapidly detect NDV and for successful prevention and control of NDV outbreaks.
Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab (GIP IL) is applying a portable, real-time sequencing device, called MinION produced by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, to characterize circulating strains of NDV among outbreaks in poultry in Ghana and Tanzania. In partnership with the government sector, the GIP-IL is collecting data and samples and characterizing NDVs during outbreaks with the goal of improving our understanding of the epidemiology of NDV in these countries. This miniaturized sequencing platform can be transported to countries or locations where performing sequencing is difficult or importing samples to other locations is not permissible. Applying this technology to national surveillance programs can strengthen the capacity of national laboratory systems to characterize NDVs and other important animal pathogens.
Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab Strengthens Partnerships with Stakeholders to Ensure Innovations Effectively Reach Smallholder Producers
The GIP Innovation Lab is collaborating with a network of stakeholders in Tanzania and Ghana who are working together toward the goal of attaining healthy, productive poultry populations. On August 29th 2018, the GIP Innovation Lab held a stakeholder workshop in Ghana to further engage participants in the program’s activities to date and seek input on strategies for ensuring that smallholder farmers benefit from chickens with enhanced Newcastle disease virus (NDV) resistance. In addition to discussions on the application of genetic/genomic approaches to NDV resistance, stakeholders delivered presentations on the poultry value chain in Ghana, the importance of local chicken ecotypes for small-scale production, and NDV prevention and control strategies.
The event was well attended with participation from a number of different stakeholder groups from the private and public sectors, including the Ghana National Association of Poultry Farmers and Peasant Farmers Association, USDA Ghana Poultry Project, USDA Amplifies Ghana, Centre for Indigenous Knowledge for Organizational Development, Animal Production and Veterinary Services Directorates from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Heifer International, and the Animal Research Institute. The workshop provided a valuable networking opportunity and occasion to share information on how public and private organizations can work together to improve production for smallholder producers in Ghana.