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Dutch Study Reveals Cause of Broiler Immunity Problems

02 December 2013

NETHERLANDS - Based on their study of transgenerational epigenetics, researchers in Wageningen suggest that ed that unwanted effects of innate immunity in the broiler - such a metabolic disorders - may derive from the differences in environment between breeders and their progeny.

A mismatch between breeder environment and broiler environment may account for unwanted effects of innate immunity in the broiler, according to new research from the Netherlands.

In Poultry Science, T.V.L. Berghof and colleagues at Wageningen University explain that transgenerational epigenetics is becoming more and more important for understanding the variation of physiological responses of individuals to the environment and the inheritance of these responses based on all mechanisms other than the actual DNA nucleotide sequence.

Transgenerational epigenetics, they continue,  is the phenomenon that the information of the environment of (usually) a female animal is translated into memory-like responses preparing the offspring.

As a consequence, individuals of the next generation may show different phenotypic traits depending whether their mothers were kept under different environmental conditions. This may result in either positive or negative effects on the next-generation individuals, which is different from individuals from mothers that have been kept in a different environment.

Transgenerational epigenetic effects have been proposed and indicated for specific immune (T cell and antibody) responses (especially in mammals but also in birds) and innate immunity (non-vertebrates) but surprisingly little is known of transgenerational effects on innate immunity in chickens.

Given the short lifespan of the chicken and therefore the likely dependence of chicken on innate immune mechanisms, more attention should be given to this arm of immunity and mechanisms of inheritance including transgenerational effects that can be initiated in the breeder generation.

In addition, the Wageningen group says, it is becoming evident that innate immunity also underlies metabolic disorders in broilers.

In the current paper, Berghof and colleagues argue that although little is known of transgenerational effects of innate immunity in poultry, more attention should be given to this type of study.

They illustrate examples of transgenerational epigenetics, and finally propose strategies that should reveal the presence of transgenerational epigenetic effects on innate immunity in chickens and strategies to modulate breeder birds such that these effects positively affect innate immunity of broilers.


Berghof T.V.L., H.K. Parmentier and A. Lammers. 2013. Transgenerational epigenetic effects on innate immunity in broilers: An underestimated field to be explored? Poult. Sci. 92(11):2904-2913. doi: 10.3382/ps.2013-03177

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