Chicken antiviral proteins: study of genetic variation across breeds

A collaborative study led by The Pirbright Institute and Imperial College London has identified variations in the genes of chicken antiviral proteins called interferon-induced transmembrane proteins (IFITMs) which could have an impact on their ability to fight viral infections. This is the first study to look at the natural genetic variation of IFITM genes across breeds, which could be used to inform commercial poultry breeding.

Published in BMC Genomics, the team’s research highlighted that there were naturally occurring differences in IFITM genes between four different groups of chickens; commercial, inbred, indigenous and rare breed. There were genetic differences between geographically distant groups, but also within groups of related chickens. Some of these variations may alter the IFITM proteins, suggesting that they could have functional consequences and may affect the ability of chickens to fight different viruses.

Dr Mark Fife, Head of the Genetics and Genomics group at Pirbright, said “Now that we have identified these genetic differences, we can work towards understanding how they affect the birds’ responses to viral infections. If particular variations are found to provide extra protection, they could be selected for by commercial breeding programmes to help make chickens more resistant to economically important diseases”.

Article: Comparative analysis of the chicken IFITM locus by targeted genome sequencing reveals evolution of the locus and positive selection in IFITM1 and IFITM3 by Irene Bassano, Swee Hoe Ong, Maximo Sanz-Hernandez, Michal Vinkler, Adebabay Kebede, Olivier Hanotte, Ebele Onuigbo, Mark Fife and Paul Kellam, published in BMC Genomics (2019) 20:272, doi: 10.1186/s12864-019-5621-5