The Animal Biotechnology research theme at IBR has been revitalized by coming of Dr. Sheila Cecily Ommeh a molecular geneticist. The Animal Biotechnology research group currently has five active research grants, which are focusing on two thematic areas: “Indigenous poultry conservation for improvement and sustainable use” and “Wildlife Conservation”.
Three seed funds from JKUAT-RPE research, the International Foundation of Science – IFS and the Sino-African Joint Research Center-SAJOREC project on Indigenous Poultry Molecular Diversity, will focus on the characterization of indigenous poultry and wild relatives from different agroecological zones in Kenya towards conservation, genetic improvement and sustainable use.
Photographs of of a sample of birds to be used in the ongoing research
These projects are collaboration with Mr. Oyier of ICSIT-JKUAT and other partners from the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, The Kenya Wildlife service, National Museums of Kenya and Kenya Forest Service, the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China, The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and the Chinese academy of Science.
Indigenous poultry in Kenya which includes indigenous chickens, guineafowls and quails among others, are a source of quality proteins in terms of meat and eggs. They are mostly reared by women and youth in rural areas. Guineafowls and quails that are wild; are a promising alternative as well as complementary to indigenous chicken farming. Threats to indigenous chicken production and productivity include emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases as well as heat stress and drought due to climate change as well as poor husbandry practices. In addition, the loss of habitat and unscrupulous harvesting of guineafowls and quails from the wild has endangered these two indigenous poultry species.
Currently, little attention has been given towards the genetic improvement of indigenous poultry specifically for the Kenyan environment and more importantly, from the Kenyan genetic pool. Several past national poultry improvement programs have instead promoted traditional breeding methods such as cross-breeding with exotic breeds or the introduction of exotic breeds altogether. Although these programs start out with good intentions, they often end up being a “poisoned chalice” since they are not sustainable in the long-run and promote genetic erosion.
Dr. Ommeh proposes a pragmatic shift of genomic selection as a breeding tool on the existing Kenyan indigenous poultry. This will go a long way towards selecting genotypes and matching with phenotypes that are specific for the Kenyan environment. Several students have been recruited into these two projects including two ‘IBR class 2013’ MSc Biotechnology students. They are, Ms. Grace Moraa and Ms. Beverly Aswani. Mr. Oyier, the current Chairman of ICSIT will focus on the computational part of the project for his PhD. Other Students from various departments at JKUAT and the SAJOREC projects have also been recruited.
The two other projects funded by SAJOREC include the taxonomy and diversity of economic important mammals as well as pathogen discovery in mammals. These projects will also focus on the conservation of the current wildlife which are currently under various threats especially from emerging pathogens.