Promiscuity Promotes Tougher Chicks

GLOBAL – Promiscuity in female birds can maximise genetic quality in offspring, a study into junglefowl has found.
calendar icon 4 September 2013
clock icon 2 minute read

A University of East Anglia collaboration has found that by mating with different males, females have greater chance of hatching chicks with greater disease resistance.

Researchers have learned that chickens are able to favour the sperm from males which is most genetically different to their own, a phenomenon called ‘cryptic female choice’.

The gene involved is the Major Histocopatability Complex (MHC) and key in battling infection. Fertilisation is based around opting for the most different MHC from their own offspring.

Breeders could benefit from the findings of the joint project, carried out between the University of Oxford, Stockholm University and Linköping University, but according to Professor David Richardson, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, there is still a lot of work to do.

“To optimise the quality of offspring produced in breeding programs we may need to make sure that females mate with multiple males and that they avoid artificial insemination, which could lead to the genetic health of bred stocks being weaker,” said Professor Richardson.

“Many breeding programmes for livestock and conservation use artificial insemination. But our research suggests that this may not produce the best quality offspring.

“This is because the effect appears to require the subconscious female assessment of the male by some cue during actual mating."

Michael Priestley

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