Background: Improving digestive efficiency is a major goal in poultry production, to reduce production costs, make possible the use of alternative feedstuffs and decrease the volume of manure produced. Since measuring digestive efficiency is difficult, identifying molecular markers associated with genes controlling this trait would be a valuable tool for selection. Detection of QTL (quantitative trait loci) was undertaken on 820 meat-type chickens in a F2 cross between D- and D+ lines divergently selected on low or high AMEn (apparent metabolizable energy value of diet corrected to 0 nitrogen balance) measured at three weeks in animals fed a low-quality diet. Birds were measured for 13 traits characterizing digestive efficiency (AMEn, coefficients of digestive utilization of starch, lipids, proteins and dry matter (CDUS, CDUL, CDUP, CDUDM)), anatomy of the digestive tract (relative weights of the proventriculus, gizzard and intestine and proventriculus plus gizzard (RPW, RGW, RIW, RPGW), relative length and density of the intestine (RIL, ID), ratio of proventriculus and gizzard to intestine weight (PG/I); and body weight at 23 days of age. Animals were genotyped for 6000 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) distributed on 28 autosomes, the Z chromosome and one unassigned linkage group.
Results: Nine QTL for digestive efficiency traits, 11 QTL for anatomy-related traits and two QTL for body weight at 23 days of age were detected. On chromosome 20, two significant QTL at the genome level co-localized for CDUS and CDUDM, i.e. two traits that are highly correlated genetically. Moreover, on chromosome 16, chromosome-wide QTL for AMEn, CDUS, CDUDM and CDUP, on chromosomes 23 and 26, chromosome-wide QTL for CDUS, on chromosomes 16 and 26, co-localized QTL for digestive efficiency and the ratio of intestine length to body weight and on chromosome 27 a chromosome-wide QTL for CDUDM were identified.
Conclusions: This study identified several regions of the chicken genome involved in the control of digestive efficiency. Further studies are necessary to identify the underlying genes and to validate these in commercial populations and breeding environments.