OAC Prof Talks Turkey About Building Better Birds

Prof. Gregoy Bédécarrats. Photo by Martin Schwalbe

Research is critical to long-term goals and needs of Ontario’s $825-million poultry industry

Making turkeys and hens grow bigger and faster – but safely – is the goal of Prof. Gregoy Bédécarrats.

Helping to build better birds for the multimillion-dollar poultry industry is the goal of newly arrived Prof. Gregoy Bédécarrats, Animal and Poultry Science.

As a physiologist, Bédécarrats studies linked reproductive, neuroendocrine and immune systems to help breeders and producers understand and better control sexual maturity, egg laying and incubation behaviour of chickens and turkeys.

Although plenty of researchers have studied these systems in mammals, including humans, scientists are still unravelling the underlying science of poultry growth and reproduction. They’re keen to understand the push-pull relationship that exists between production and reproduction in hens and turkeys, a relationship that affects farmers and producers in Ontario’s $825-million poultry industry.

Broiler-breeders – “parents” of birds sold in the supermarket – are bred for speedy growth and maturity, with producers looking for birds that convert feed to muscle quickly and efficiently.

“The goal is to reduce that time in ways that do not affect health or production,” says Bédécarrats.

That’s not easy to do. Growing a bird too quickly can hinder successful breeding. This is a key issue for the roughly 1,800 producers represented by the Poultry Industry Council (PIC). The organization sponsors the Guelph professor’s work in aspects of poultry production and reproduction through a $300,000 three-year grant; he has received matching funds from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

“His area of research really is critical to long-term objectives and needs of the industry,” says Dave Nodwell, PIC executive director, referring to Bédécarrats’s work in balancing production traits and immune system characteristics, including studies pertinent to reducing the use of antibiotics in production.

Nodwell notes that although Bédécarrats is not directly involved in studying the current hot topic of avian influenza, “a bird with an enhanced immune system is going to help deal with things of that sort.”

Besides conducting his own research, Bédécarrats, who arrived at U of G last year, is collaborating with other local researchers through his membership on the poultry program team. Created by the PIC, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and U of G, the team includes a poultry epidemiologist and two poultry pathobiologists at the Ontario Veterinary College.

Assembled in 2000, the group is involved with technology transfer, research and industry support. Among its projects, the group is studying emerging health issues, developing a geographical information database for the industry, and surveying and assessing “on-farm” food safety programs. A key issue for the industry is poultry health management and work on disease response protocols and procedures.

Much of the team’s work involves research collaborations among its members. Referring to research ties with Bédécarrats, Prof. Shayan Sharif, Pathobiology, says: “We intend to examine the effects of neuroendocrine hormones on the avian immune system. This should lead to enhanced understanding of the physiological processes that govern reproduction, production and maintenance of health in poultry.”

Outside of the poultry program team, Bédécarrats is working with another faculty member in OVC on hormonal cycles in birds. Rather than stimulate breeding as with turkeys or hens, the idea from a veterinarian’s point of view is to prevent that behaviour in pet birds such as budgies and canaries.

He acknowledges that that’s a paradoxical-sounding twist on his usual studies of hormones involved in poultry reproduction and production. He’s especially interested in the workings of such substances as gonadotropin-releasing hormone and prolactin, which regulate the reproductive cycle.

Besides affecting industry production of poultry and breeding programs, Bédécarrats says his work might also play out in genetic engineering by pinpointing genes responsible for regulating production of certain hormones. Although he frequently visits the Arkell Research Station, much of his work and that of his four graduate students in the Animal Science and Nutrition Building involves the tools of molecular biology and cell culture.

“It’s a really complete and multidisciplinary field because I work with molecular biology but also components of biochemistry, behaviour – all kinds of different fields,” he says.

For a stretch before arriving at Guelph, he found himself studying physiology in rather an unexpected field, as a post-doc in endocrinology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. That four-year stint is perhaps the closest he’s come to fulfilling his initial ambition of becoming a doctor.

It was while in Boston that he got a call to ask whether he might be interested in a new position at U of G. “I was impressed by the facilities and the dynamism of the University of Guelph,” he says.

Bédécarrats completed undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Rennes in France, where he grew up. Having visited Canada as a chaperone for French student tours, he wound up at McGill University, where he studied the role of prolactin in poultry for his PhD in animal science.

RESOURCE: News @ Guelph
by Andrew Vowles
POSTED: March 10, 2004

Posted in News, News Bedecarrats.