Gene findings suggest Marek's disease treatment targets

Discovery of regions of chicken DNA linked with resistance to Marek’s disease virus could inform ways to help tackle it.

September 25, 2020

2 Min Read
Roslin Mareks chicken23.jpg
The study provides a large number of potential targets for future therapies or techniques to manage Marek’s virus disease.The Roslin Institute.

Researchers with The Roslin Institute in the U.K. have identified genes strongly associated with resistance to a virus that causes cancer in poultry and costs the global poultry industry more than $2 billion a year.

They conducted an analysis relating to the highly contagious Marek’s disease virus that provides a large number of potential targets for future therapies or techniques to manage the disease, the institute said in an announcement.

Findings from the analysis also reveal details about the biology behind susceptibility to the virus, which could lead to more precise selective breeding strategies.

Outcomes from the research are the first to provide such a large-scale, high-resolution analysis of genes underlying resistance to a virus in birds relevant to the poultry industry, Roslin said.

The researchers identified regions of chicken DNA that are seen as playing a role in disease resistance, the announcement said. The multifaceted approach included comparing the DNA of two groups of commercial egg-laying chickens that differed in their resistance to Marek’s disease virus.

They also analyzed genetic information from infected chicks and identified variations associated with resistance in the DNA of multiple commercial chicken lines.

Researchers investigated any genetic association with mortality in the infected offspring of egg-laying birds, Roslin noted.

Scientists found various DNA elements that had a strong genetic association with resistance to the virus.

"Marek’s disease is devastating to flocks worldwide as well as the economy, and current vaccination can only partially control it. Our study identifies regions of the genome associated with resistance, which could be used for mitigating the effects of the virus through selective breeding, improved vaccine design or future gene editing technologies," study lead Dr. Jaqueline Smith with The Roslin Institute said.

The tumors caused by Marek’s disease virus have similarities to human lymphoma, so the study may also increase the understanding of human cancers.

The study was published in the journal Genes and was carried out in collaboration with Hy-Line International and supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research & Innovation.

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