Genetic variability of metabolic characteristics in chickens selected for their ability to digest wheat

J Anim Sci. 2013 Jun;91(6):2605-15. doi: 10.2527/jas.2012-6182. Epub 2013 Mar 12.


Improving feed efficiency remains crucial for poultry production. Birds have previously been selected on their ability to digest their diet, as assessed by AMEn (Apparent ME corrected for 0 nitrogen). Such selection, for either a high (D+) or a low AMEn (D-), affects energy, nitrogen, lipid, and starch digestibility. The aim of this study was to establish whether selection on the digestive ability of birds modified metabolic traits. A total of 630 broiler chickens of the eighth generation of a divergent selection experiment on AMEn were used for this purpose. A balance trial was performed to determine energy, nitrogen, and phosphorus retention. Growth performance was recorded and body protein and lipid deposition assessed by breast and abdominal fat yields. Tibia development and mineralization were also studied and heat production was indirectly assessed through the measurement of body temperature during fasting and feeding. Phenotypic correlations estimated within line showed that an increased efficiency was associated to fatter birds and more solid bones in D- but not in D+ line, whereas increased consumption was associated with more solid bones in D+ but not in D- line. The heritability estimates for metabolic traits were relatively high, except for temperature traits (from 0.08 to 0.12), ranging from 0.28 to 0.56 for body composition, and from 0.38 to 0.77 for bone characteristics. Breast meat yield did not differ between the 2 lines whereas a slight increase in abdominal fat yield was observed in the high-digestion line (D+). The relative dry tibia weights and ash weights were greater in D+ birds (+6.56 and +8.06%, respectively) but the lengths and the diameters of the tibia were lower (-7.89 and -3.77%, respectively). Finally, AMEn was poorly correlated with almost all metabolic traits (ranging from -0.10 to 0.20), indicating that the ability of the animal to digest its diet is genetically independent of post-digestion metabolic traits.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Bone Development
  • Chickens / genetics
  • Chickens / growth & development
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Digestion*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable*
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Thermogenesis


  • Proteins
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen