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Male mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos.. © Catherine MADZAC, MADZAK Catherine

Sequencing the duck genome

Sequencing: the first step toward deciphering the duck genome

DNA sequencing is but a first step, and further research is needed to fully unravel the duck genome. International efforts are underway to create common tools. The duck is studied primarily as a source of food, but also as a healthy carrier of the bird flu virus.

By Pascale Mollier, translated by Inge Laino
Updated on 10/09/2013
Published on 07/23/2013

DNA sequencing is only a first step; further research is needed to fully decipher the duck genome. Scientists have yet to identify genes and understand their place and role within the genome. This will require significant research efforts to create tools such as physical and genetic maps for studying transcriptomes and proteomes, etc. International projects are underway to develop these common tools, which different teams will then be able to use to further their own research. The duck is studied primarily as a source of food, but also as a healthy carrier of bird flu.

The duck can’t escape the cooking pot…

INRA researchers from Toulouse, Rennes, Tours and Bordeaux are interested in the duck primarily for its breeding characteristics (food efficiency) and the quality of the products derived from it (foie gras and meat).

They have developed marker maps (DNA polymorphism zones) to identify which regions of the genome come into play in the variability of studied traits. Most of the time, these traits are quantitative, and depend on the expression of one or more genes (QTL: quantitative trait loci).

Researchers are also working on sequencing transcripts (RNA messenger) in several tissues - meat, brain, liver – to detect gene expression. These results contribute to the functional annotation of the genome, which consists of identifying the place and function of genes within the DNA sequence. Ultimately, the annotated genome serves to analyse its expression in different tissues and/or breeding conditions. The moulard duck, used to produce foie gras, will also be the subject of study. This duck is the result of cross-breeding between the common and Barbarie ducks - two species as distant from each other in phylogenetic terms as the donkey and the horse.

…but sidesteps the flu!

Other teams of researchers from the USA and Canada have taken an interest in the question of bird flu. They have identified genes expressed in response to the viral infection by comparing lung transcripts from healthy ducks and those infected with highly pathological or weak strains of the virus. The duck’s greater resistance to the virus in comparison with the chicken may be linked to the presence of different immune genes, some of which even occur in duplicate in the duck genome.