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UC Davis Veterinary Researchers Work to Improve Food Security in Rural Africa

April 8, 2015

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Dr. Rodrigo Gallardo trains veterinarians in Tanzania to collect samples that detect concentrations of Newcastle disease virus.

Researchers at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are working towards improving food security for families living in rural Africa by enhancing resistance to Newcastle disease and heat stress in chickens.

Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) is an infection of domestic poultry and other bird species characterized by respiratory, digestive and nervous signs. In addition, it causes up to 100 percent mortality in affected flocks. It is the most devastating disease in endemic places and the major constraint to chicken production in rural Africa, such as villages in Ghana and Tanzania.

This five-year USAID funded program, “Feed the Future: Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry,” is a collaboration between the UC Davis Animal Sciences Department, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University, University of Ghana, and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

Principal Investigator Dr. Huaijun Zhou from the CAES Animal Sciences Department in collaboration with Program Director Dr. David Bunn and Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Rodrigo Gallardo of the SVM Population Health & Reproduction Department, are looking at chickens from different ecological locations of East and West Africa, called “ecotypes”, to find genes in local chicken populations that provide greater heat tolerance and resistance to the END virus.  The detection of these genes will allow their incorporation into the genetic pool of domestic chickens in Africa and improve the success of village chicken production.  

“In addition to meat and eggs for family consumption, village poultry production is an important source of income for households in rural African villages. It helps pay their basic expenses like food and medical bills,” said Dr. Gallardo. “Our goal is to breed chickens in these developing regions that are resistant to the Newcastle disease virus to improve poultry production and food security for families that depend on it for their livelihoods.”