Simulation of dual-purpose chicken breeding programs implementing gene editing

Edward Y.S. Chuang*, Robin Wellmann, Franck L.B. Meijboom, Jens Tetens, Jörn Bennewitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: In spite of being controversial and raising ethical concerns, the application of gene editing is more likely to be accepted when it contributes to improving animal welfare. One of the animal welfare and ethical issues in chicken breeding is chick culling, the killing of the male layer chicks after hatching due to the poor fattening performance. Although establishing dual-purpose chicken lines could solve this problem, unfavorable genetic correlations between egg and meat production traits hindered their competitiveness. Although it is also controversial in ethical terms, gene editing may accelerate genetic progress in dual-purpose chicken and alleviate the ethical concerns from chick culling. Results: The simulation compared the utility improvement in dual-purpose use under two breeding schemes: one consisting in the improvement of the laying hens, and the second in the improvement of a synthetic line obtained from a layer broiler cross. In each breeding scheme, the breeding programs were simulated with and without gene editing. Polygenic breeding values and 500 simulated quantitative trait loci (QTL) with different levels of pleiotropy caused negative correlations between egg production, meat production, and overall health. The results of the simulation demonstrated that genetic gain could be accelerated by at most 81% for several generations if gene editing was used. The actual increase in genetic gain depended on the number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) being edited per animal. The rate of genetic improvement became equal in scenarios with and without gene editing after 20 generations. This is because the remaining segregating QTL had small effects and their edition would have negative overall health effects from potential off-target edits. Although gene editing can improve genetic gain in quantitative traits, it can only be recommended as long as QTL with reasonable effect sizes are segregating and detectable. Conclusions: This simulation demonstrates the potential of gene editing to accelerate the simultaneous improvement of negatively correlated traits. When the risk of negative consequences from gene editing persists, the number of SNPs to be edited should be chosen carefully to obtain the optimal genetic gain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Number of pages12
JournalGenetics Selection Evolution
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2024


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