NEWARK, DELAWARE – American scientists are attempting to develop chickens that can cope with scorching heat as part of a series of government-funded programs looking to adapt to or mitigate the effects of extreme weather patterns on the food supply.
A University of Delaware project is developing ways to introduce climate hardiness to the U.S. domestic breed stock before summer heat waves kill or spoil the meat of billions of birds.
Backing for lead scientist professor Carl Schmidt’s program comes from the top. This month, President Barack Obama — seeking to make stricter regulations on carbon emissions a centerpiece of his second term — described the effects of climate change as “a problem affecting Americans right now.”
Grants have been given to research how cattle can adapt to extreme drought, as well as the effect of climate change on pollinators such as bees, and toxin-producing fungi in wine-making.
The shift in policy emphasis was highlighted this month with the publication of an exhaustive National Climate Assessment that identified areas of agricultural production experiencing “climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience.”
For Schmidt and his researchers, the challenge with poultry lies in mapping the genomes of different species. In extreme heat, chickens, like dogs, will pant. That changes the chemical balance of their blood, introducing a bitterness to the flavor of the meat.
The complexities of bird reproduction present difficulties to genome engineers. It is not possible simply to cross a heat-resistant chicken such as the African naked-neck with a domestic bird without losing qualities you would want to keep, explains Schmidt.