Maternal and genetic effects on broiler bone properties during incubation period

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In order to examine the differences in bone properties between fast-growing and slow-growing broiler embryos and to understand the effects of genotype and egg size on these differences, fast- and slow-growing hens and males were reciprocally crossed to create 4 egg groups: FST (laid by fast-growing hens, inseminated by fast-growing males), H-FST (fast-growing hens and slow-growing males), H-SLW (slow-growing hens and fast-growing males), and SLW (slow-growing hens and slow-growing males). Embryos (n = 8) from these 4 groups were sacrificed and weighed, and both tibiae were harvested on embryonic d (E) 17, 19, and 21. Left tibiae were tested for their whole-bone mechanical properties using a micromechanical device. Cortical bone structure and bone mineral density (BMD) were examined by micro-computed tomography of the left tibiae. Bone mineralization was evaluated by measuring BMD and ash content, while the rate and location of mineralization were evaluated by fluorochrome labeling. Osteoclastic activity and osteocyte density were evaluated by histological stains [TRAP (Tartrate resistant acid phosphatase) and H&E (Hematoxylin and Eosin), respectively]. Groups with larger eggs (FST and H-FST) had higher BW and tibia weight than groups with smaller eggs (SLW and H-SLW); however, they had a lower ratio of tibia weight to BW. Between groups with similar egg weight, stiffness, maximal load, and yield load of the bones were higher in the SLW than the H-SLW, while no differences were found between the FST and H-FST. Additionally, the tibiae of the SLW were stiffer and their osteocyte density higher than in the FST on E21 and their periosteal mineralization rate was higher between E19 and E21. No differences were found between the groups in cortical bone structure. This study demonstrates that faster growing hatchlings, especially those that hatch from relatively small eggs, have inferior bone mechanical properties in comparison to slower growing hatchlings, and suggests that fast-growing chicks hatching from small eggs are at a higher risk for developing bone pathologies. Accordingly, selection for increased egg size may lead to improved mechanical performance of the skeleton of fast-growing broilers.

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