New insights into factors that affect bone strength could improve the health of hens that lay eggs, according to The Roslin Institute in the U.K.
Researchers at Roslin and collaborating institutions have discovered a gene linked to bone quality -- a finding that could help inform selective breeding, the institute said in an announcement.
The discovery could lead to better health in hens that lay eggs, which are at risk of osteoporosis.
The genetic finding confirms the importance of a key biological molecule for healthy bones and may be relevant for other species, including humans, Roslin said.
The researchers looked in detail at a region of chicken DNA that was known from previous studies to be linked to the risk of bone fractures. They studied generations of hens, looking at the level of activity in genes and the strength of the hens’ bones.
The team was able to pinpoint a key gene, named cystathionine beta synthase, that was associated with better bone quality.
Hens with a particular version of the gene had bones with raised mineral content and cross-linking of collagen protein, suggesting that these factors may be important for the differences in bone quality, the institute explained.
"Hens that produce eggs, especially those that are free range, carry a risk to their bones because of the resources they need for laying. Our findings highlight the importance of a key gene, cystathionine beta synthase (CBS), for healthy bones. Further work may show whether other nearby genes on the chicken genome are also of significance," said Roslin Institute professor Ian Dunn, who was involved in the research.
The study, published in Genetics Selection Evolution, was carried out in collaboration with scientists in Sweden, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic and China.