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New tool helps researchers bone up on osteoporosis

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University scientists investigating osteoporosis in laying hens have shown that a noninvasive tool can monitor birds' bone strength and aid in discovering genetic information about bone disease in chickens.

Lack of calcium in chickens' food and lack of exercise can leave hens with brittle bones, said Patricia "Scotti" Hester, a professor in Purdue's Department of Animal Sciences. In addition, eggshell production leaches calcium from hens' bones. Hester and her research team found they could accurately determine bone mineral density using a technology known as dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).

Their study is published in the August issue of the journal Poultry Science and also appears on the publication's Web site.

"The brittle bone problem has evolved gradually over the past quarter of a century," Hester said. "This is due to generally selecting chickens for increased egg numbers, and smaller bird sizes for improved feed efficiency. Also, little emphasis has been placed on selecting for skeletal integrity."

Skeletal integrity in hens also decreases during management practices used to improve shell quality and lengthen a bird's production life, Hester said. Previous studies by other researchers have found that osteoporosis accounts for 15 percent to 30 percent of total fatalities in hens.

"If we can find genes associated with osteoporosis, we can use genetic selection to improve skeletal integrity," Hester said. "We hope that this will be a way to reduce the incidence of brittle bones because of the considerable variation in bone mineral density that we've found among hens."

Various researchers also are studying other factors that contribute to brittle bones in poultry.

"Osteoporosis in chickens is an animal well-being issue," Hester said. "Breeding, diet and exercise all play a vital role in skeletal integrity of laying hens."

Her team conducted two experiments for t
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Contact: Susan A. Steeves
ssteeves@purdue.edu
765-496-7481
Purdue University
18-Aug-2003


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