Our Research

Chromosome structure

Scheme of a Chromosome. (1) Chromatid. One of the two identical parts of the chromosome after S phase. (2) Centromere. The point where the two chromatids touch, and where the microtubules attach. (3) Short (p) arm (4) Long (q) arm. In accordance with the display rules in Cytogenetics, the short arm is on top. Wikimedia Commons

Our research interests are in the study of genome and chromosome structure, function and evolution. Past studies have examined chromosomal structure at the gross karyological and molecular levels and the effects of various types of chromosomal rearrangements on meiotic fitness.  Current studies focus on comparative and functional genomics of poultry (turkey) and mammals.

Our primary research has the development of genomic resources for the turkey. This project provides a comprehensive approach to develop a high-resolution genetic map of this species. Key to this end has been application of chicken genomic resources such as the whole-genome sequence and INRA chicken radiation hybrid panel. The long-term research strategy includes development of genetic markers, expressed sequence tags (ESTs) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for construct of a detailed genetic map and analysis of production and disease resistance traits.

Despite its significant economic importance, the turkey is one of the few agriculturally important species for which no genomic maps had been constructed. Commodity representatives identify genomics as a top priority. Specifically, of key importance is in how genomic information can be integrated into production systems addressing economical issues associated with animal production. Newly developed technologies can be used to identify and map genes associated with these economically important traits  Development of new genetic markers and a comprehensive turkey linkage map has improved our ability to determine the genetic location of QTLs with significant effects on production traits and disease susceptibility in this species as well as enhance similar investigations in the chicken. Construction of the turkey genetic linkage map relied on a reference population constructed through a significant commitment from the turkey industry and funding from the USDA. We are now part of an international consortium that has begun sequencing the turkey genome.

The search for genes associated with production traits and disease susceptibility in turkey is currently hampered by the lack of genomic resources. Identification of genes associated with susceptibility to this disease alone would greatly impact the industry. In addition to lowering production costs, genetic enhancement of the immune response could increase vaccine efficacy thereby reducing drug residues in food.  We are currently sequencing the B- and RFP-Y loci of the turkey MHC in order to develop genetic tools to this end.  Better utilization of genetic information, including basic diagnostic tools such as genetic markers and linkage maps, can enhance commercial flocks through the selection of genetically superior animals. 

Aspergillus fumigatus

This photomicrograph revealed the presence of Aspergillus fumigatus fungal organisms in a brain tissue, methenamine silver-stained specimen harvested from a turkey poult that had contracted this infection. CDC/ Dr. Lucille Georg

Turkeys are possibly the most susceptible animal species known to the toxic effects of Aflatoxin B1. Aflatoxin B1 was discovered in the early 1960s as the etiological agent of “Turkey X” disease, responsible for the widespread deaths of turkeys and other poultry throughout Europe. We are collaborating with Dr. Coulombe’s lab at Utah State University to investigate the genetic-basis for this susceptibility

A secondary emphasis of my research is examining a candidate gene for choanal atresia, a usually fatal developmental condition in alpaca and llama. Working with collaborators here at the University of Minnesota, we hope to identify gene mutations responsible for this condition. This project is funded by the Morris Animal Foundation.