Lead by geneticist Carl Schmidt and his team at University of Delaware, a study is being conducted to map birds’ genetic code that makes them resistant to heat.
Together with researchers from Iowa State University and North Carolina State University, Schmidt’s team traveled to Brazil and Uganda to study birds that are featherless in the necks and heads. This characteristic is mostly found in equatorial birds to stay cool in scorching heat.
“We’re going to be seeing heat waves that are both hotter and longer,” Schmidt said. “And we need to learn how to mitigate the effect of climate change on animals — we need to figure out how to help them adapt to it.”
Hotter climate lowers the birds’ appetite, increases their risk of catching diseases and makes their mortality rate higher.
“My concern is feeding nine billion people in 2050,” Schmidt said. “That’s going to be a challenge. And it’s going to be made worse if the climate does continue to change.”
Schmidt is also studying the African and South American birds on how they are able to survive environmental stress in the region.
The study is part of a five-year $4.7 million climate change grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. After three years, geneticists have already gathered all the needed data which will be analyzed in two years in order to determine the best way to adapt heat resistant genes to American chickens.
However, the project will focus only in gene sequencing and data crunching. The breeding proper will take generations to happen.
“Doing this is going to take time,” Schmidt explained. “It could take two decades of research before resulting in any actual chickens.”