Biomarkers helping to identify broilers susceptible to wooden breast syndrome
Broiler producers need answers in the battle against wooden or woody breast syndrome — and they need them quickly.
While safe for human consumption, the hard, chewy breast meat from affected birds is not marketable and results in significant economic losses for poultry companies.
“The disease manifests itself exactly as the name implies, making a chicken’s breast extremely tough and with the feel of wood,” explained Behnam Abasht, lead researcher and assistant professor in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The disease can also cause white striping — visible white lines parallel to the muscle fibers — that may decrease the nutritional value of the meat.
Beginning with more than 11,000 genes detectible in breast tissue, University of Delaware researchers were able to identify 30 genes that played a critical role in wooden breast syndrome, allowing them to classify chickens into three groups; unaffected, moderately affected and severely affected. Six of these genes showed increased expression levels in moderately to severely affected birds.
The metabolic signature of these genes in the breast tissue includes elevated lipid levels, muscle degradation and altered use of glucose — processes contributing to tissue hardening and the visible parallel white striping in muscle fibers.
By studying the gene expression data from chicken breast tissue and then identifying biomarkers for wooden breast syndrome, researchers have determined the biochemistry involved — the first step in new diagnostics and treatments — as reported in the journal PLOS One.
“There a lot of similarities in the biomarker and gene expression work that really confirm each other,” Abasht said. “The results show that there’s oxidate stress in the affected muscles.”
The biomarkers can now be used to accurately classify commercial chickens with or without the disease — and its severity — impacting the health and well-being of nearly 500 million broiler chickens in the Delmarva region alone.
Future research will look at supplementing poultry diets with Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, to help lower the incidence of the disorder.