Chicken genome will help our understanding of humans and improve agriculture

December 08, 2004

The first full DNA sequence of the chicken (Gallus gallus) genome is published today in the journal Nature. UK scientists have worked closely with 170 researchers from 49 institutes worldwide, to interpret the genome of the chicken. They believe it will help us to understand more about the biology of chickens and will also give us further insights into humans and fundamental biological processes.

"The sequencing of the chicken genome is a major landmark as the first agriculturally important animal to have its genome sequenced and has great implications for furthering our understanding of the human genome," said Professor David Burt of the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, who led a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded team which worked on the annotation of the genome within the international chicken genome project. "The chicken has also been used extensively as a model by developmental biologists for over a century and the availability of a gene catalogue for the species will boost research in this area."

From the sequencing of the human and other mammalian genomes we have a large number of genes for which the function is still a mystery. The chicken is located part way between mammals and fish in the tree of life and the sequenced genome will help us to understand the function of human genes and the way that they have evolved in vertebrates.

Scientists at the BBSRC-sponsored Institute for Animal Health (IAH) in Compton, Berkshire, have analysed the part of the chicken genome responsible for controlling tissue rejection and which influences the susceptibility of individuals to diseases. Their work, led by Dr Jim Kaufman, will aid the breeding of healthier chickens and the design of better veterinary vaccines.

Analysis of the sequence has revealed how similar the arrangement of genes in the chicken and human genomes are - at a basic level this comparison is even better than the mouse, a common model species. Prof Burt said, "The low level of 'junk' DNA in the chicken makes the comparison between the chicken and human genomes an extremely valuable tool. This confirms work predicted by the Roslin group also published in Nature five years ago."

BBSRC researchers at IAH also worked on an accompanying paper published in Nature today. Group leader Dr Pete Kaiser said: "The publication of the chicken genome is of huge importance to the UK poultry industry. Legislation and the growth in organic meat production means that we are moving towards reducing the amount of antibiotics, and other therapeutic drugs, used in chicken farming. The availability of the genome will help conventional breeders to produce healthier birds that will have greater resistance to disease, and will help us to develop new and improved vaccines for a number of important poultry diseases."

The full draft from the international consortium working on the International Chicken Sequencing Project and details of all the scientists and organisations supporting the work are published with the paper in Nature.
Notes to Editors

  • The draft genome of the wild chicken Gallus gallus is published in the journal Nature this week (volume 432 2004, 9 December 2004) by the International Chicken Genome Sequencing Consortium.
  • Researchers funded by BBSRC contributed to the sequencing and analysis of the chicken genome, the establishment of a library of short DNA sequences that span the entire genome and the development of tools to help probe the function of individual genes in the future.
  • The chicken is important because it is just the right distance away from humans in evolutionary terms to help identify the 97 per cent of the genome that does not encode proteins.
  • The chicken genome is freely available at the following sources
  • BBSRC is funding a number of projects to further develop the draft chicken genome sequence and to exploit the data being published.

    About BBSRC

    The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £300 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest. For more information on BBSRC go to:

    Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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