ISU a Partner in USAID Program to Develop Disease-resistant, Heat-tolerant Chickens for Africa

October 30th, 2013

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University is a partner on a $6 million research program to breed disease-resistant and heat-tolerant chickens in Africa.

The new effort is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future (, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. This new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry aims to dramatically increase chicken production among Africa’s rural households and small farms to advance food security, human nutrition and personal livelihoods.

The international research team is led by Huaijun Zhou, an associate professor of animal science at University of California at Davis, and also includes scientists at the University of Delaware, the University of Ghana and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

“This is a great opportunity to apply cutting-edge technology and advanced genomics to solve the major problems limiting poultry production in African and other regions of the world,” said Susan Lamont, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a professor of animal science at Iowa State.

The partners will identify key genes and other biomarkers in specialized genetic lines of chickens at Iowa State and in chickens found in East Africa and West Africa. The genes and markers will be crucial for breeding chickens that are locally adapted, can tolerate hot climates and can resist the devastating Newcastle disease.

The global economic impact of Newcastle disease is enormous. No other poultry virus comes close in terms of the economic impact, and may represent a bigger drain on the world’s economy than any other animal virus. The new project is particularly important for Africa, where infectious diseases annually cause approximately 750 million poultry deaths.

Iowa State scientists will identify genes and biomarkers conferring resistance to Newcastle disease virus, develop genetic test panels to help produce more disease-resistant birds in Africa and conduct training and outreach programs. Approximately $1 million of the total funding will support efforts at Iowa State.

Homestead and small-scale poultry production is considered to have tremendous potential for alleviating malnutrition and poverty in Africa’s climate-stressed rural communities. Improving productivity of poultry operations also promises to improve incomes and nourishment for women and children, who typically raise poultry.

“Developing a chicken that can survive Newcastle disease outbreaks is critical to increasing poultry, meat and egg production in Africa and in other regions of the world,” said Lamont. “Increasing the production of chickens and eggs can have a dramatic impact on the livelihoods of poor rural communities.”

The Iowa State team also includes Jack Dekkers, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a professor of animal science.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States. As stated in the President’s National Security Strategy, USAID’s work in development joins diplomacy and defense as one of three key pieces of the nation’s foreign policy apparatus. USAID ( promotes peace and stability by fostering economic growth, protecting human health, providing emergency humanitarian assistance, and enhancing democracy in developing countries. These efforts to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide represent U.S. values and advance U.S. interests for peace and prosperity.

Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future ( supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition.


Susan Lamont, Animal Science, (515) 294-4100,
Brian Meyer, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications, (515) 294-5616,