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News Article

Eggshell colour and disease resistance may be linked

Selection for ‘natural antibodies’ might have an effect on eggshell colour, researchers say.

Researchers at Wageningen University have found that selection for ‘natural antibodies’, a recently discovered immune characteristic, is a potential strategy to improve general disease resistance in laying hens. Selection for this immune characteristic has minimal negative consequences on production they say, but might have an effect on eggshell colour. Their findings are published in PLoS ONE and Poultry Science.

Natural antibodies (NAb) are antibodies in healthy animals without presence of a disease. NAb were only discovered relatively recently in livestock animals. These antibodies combat pathogens upon entry by sticking to them. In this way NAb prevent further spread in the body, but also flag the pathogen to activate other parts of the immune system. NAb are thus an essential component of the immune system. Previous studies showed promising results: high levels of NAb were associated with survival in laying hens. Breeding for natural antibodies could be the strategy to improve general disease resistance. However, selection on NAb should not lead to reduced production.

To investigate the potential of selection for increased general disease resistance, the researchers measured NAb levels of almost 3,700 purebred ISA laying chickens. They measured total NAb levels, and NAb levels for different forms of antibodies. Heritabilities were estimated to be 0.12 for total NAb levels, and between 0.07 and 0.14 for the different NAb forms. In addition, relations between the different forms of antibodies were very high. Tom Berghof, involved in the studies, explains: “This shows that there is genetic potential for selection on NAb levels. Also, it is possible to select for different forms of NAb simultaneously, because they seem to be mainly regulated by the same genes.”

Relations between immune characteristics and production characteristics have been described before in several species, and are often negative. This is in line with the resource allocation theory, which states that energy spend on immunity cannot be spend on, for example, growth. Relations between NAb and production characteristics of almost 2,400 hens were studied. Most production characteristics were found not to be regulated by the same genes as NAb. However, a small negative relation was found between egg production efficiency and one NAb form. Berghof and colleagues conclude that selection for NAb might have some negative effects on production, but these negative effects seem to be small.

One form of NAb was found to be associated with the mother’s eggshell colour and egg breaking strength. Additional analyses were done in order to get more insight in the origin of these maternal effects. Berghof states: “If eggs had a whiter eggshell, than NAb levels in the offspring were higher. If eggs had a stronger eggshell, than NAb levels in the offspring were lower. So it seems that there is some kind of relation between the eggshell and the immune system, especially for the eggshell colour.” At this moment the researchers are investigating this relation, since this was never described in chickens before.


Genetic and Non-Genetic Inheritance of Natural Antibodies Binding Keyhole Limpet Hemocyanin in a Purebred Layer Chicken Line by T. V. L. Berghof, S. A. S. van der Klein, J. A. J. Arts, H. K. Parmentier, J. J. van der Poel and H. Bovenhuis, published in PLoS ONE (2015) 10(6):e0131088, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131088

Genetic relations between natural antibodies binding keyhole limpet hemocyanin and production traits in a purebred layer chicken line by S. A. S. van der Klein, T. V. L. Berghof, J. A. J. Arts, H. K. Parmentier, J. J. van der Poel and H. Bovenhuis, published in Poultry Science (2015) 94(5):875-882, doi: 10.3382/ps/pev052

Article details

  • Date
  • 08 December 2015
  • Source
  • Wageningen University
  • Subject(s)
  • Animal breeding and genetics