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ARS researchers and their university colleagues have created the first genome map of the domestic turkey. Click the image for more information about it.

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USDA Scientists, Cooperators Create the First Genomic Map of the Domesticated Turkey

By Chris Guy
September 8, 2010

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers and their university colleagues have sequenced the majority of the genome of Meleagris gallopavo, the domesticated turkey, creating the first-ever turkey genome map. The nearly complete map could help growers to more efficiently produce bigger, meatier turkeys. The research is reported today in PLoS Biology, an online journal of the Public Library of Science.

Americans consume about 17.6 pounds of turkey per capita every year, and the U.S. produces nearly 6 billion pounds of turkey meat annually.

"Turkey is the fourth most popular meat in this country," said Edward B. Knipling, adminstrator of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). "The information gleaned from these genetic studies will help breeders develop improved commercial turkey breeds to meet consumers' demands in the United States and worldwide."

The research was a partnership led by Curtis Van Tassell and Julie A. Long with ARS; Otto Folkerts and Rami Dalloul of Virginia Tech University's Bioinformatics Institute (VBI); and Steven L. Salzberg of the University of Maryland's Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, at College Park.

Van Tassell works in the ARS Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory at Beltsville, Md., while Long works in the ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory, also at Beltsville. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of USDA. This research supports the USDA priority of ensuring international food security.

The researchers used "next-generation" DNA sequencing technology that relied on high-throughput instruments at the ARS laboratory in Beltsville and at VBI in Blacksburg, Va. The new technology produces millions of DNA sequences simultaneously.

The instrumentation used at VBI characterized longer strands of turkey DNA, while the ARS researchers focused on characterizing many more short DNA fragments, permitting greater detail through deeper sequencing of those fragments, according to Van Tassell. The overall turkey genome was compiled by assembling the various DNA fragments. To achieve that, the scientists had to develop new computer programs to interweave the DNA strands of varying lengths.

The turkey genome assembly was further strengthened when physical, comparative and genetic maps built by researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota were used to match the DNA sequences to turkey chromosomes. By the end of the project, the original partnership expanded to include 68 scientists affiliated with 28 national and international institutions.

"The project underscores how rapidly the field of genome sequencing has changed," said Long. "We sequenced the turkey genome in less than a year, at a fraction of the cost of sequencing chicken and cow genomes. The turkey industry and consumers will benefit from this research."

The turkey genome sequence is publically available at: