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Two divergent lines of chicken for the study of meat quality

Controlling the technological quality of chicken meat is a major issue of competitiveness for the poultry industry. Poultry meat quality is largely based on the control of muscle glycogen that influences the final acidity (ultimate pH) and functional properties of the meat. A model of divergent lines selected on the breast meat ultimate pH was created to study the genetic and physiological determinants of meat quality and identify biomarkers for applications in selection and farming.

quality of chicken meat. Schnitzel: morphological homogeneity.. © INRA, BOSSENNEC Jean-Marie
Updated on 07/05/2017
Published on 05/03/2016

Context and challenge: Globally, the production of poultry meat is growing steadily (+2% a year). It constitutes a valuable source of animal protein, easy to produce and with a moderate carbon footprint. Poultry is widely used for cutting and processing and less consumed as whole carcasses. This raises the question of the adaptation of the meat to these new forms of use and reinforces the importance of sensory and technological quality that depends largely on meat ultimate pH (pHu). Indeed, acid meats (pHu ≤ 5.7), that are unsuited to cut and further processing, represent about 20% of French production of standard chickens. Reducing their occurrence would increase the competitiveness of our companies, but also meet consumer’s expectations for healthier and more natural products. Although quality determinism is complex, genetics appears to be an effective but insufficiently exploited way to control meat quality. The aim of our project is first to demonstrate that a selection on the quality of meat is possible in chicken and second to have a specific animal model for studies on the genetic and biological determinism of the meat quality.

Results: Started in 2009 from a commercial line, a divergent selection on the breast meat pHu made it possible to obtain after 5 generations a differential greater than 0.4 pH units between the two lines. This difference in acidity resulted in very marked variations in the sensory quality (color, water loss, toughness after cooking), processing yield and sensitivity to oxidation of the breast meat. Impact of the selection was also observed in thigh muscles suggesting a common genetic control of energy reserves (glycogen) in chicken muscle. However, the selection on the breast pHu had no effect on growth and fattening of animals or the nutritional value of meat, which allows considering this phenotype in future selection schemes.

Perspectives: This model of divergent lines is unique for all species and is therefore a valuable tool for studying the molecular control of muscle energy stores and meat quality. We are currently developing a research program (CAS DAR Optiviande) combining genomic and metabolomic analyses to identify genetic markers and biological predictors for applications in poultry breeding and farming, including optimization of food programs. The expected progress should ultimately provide a competitive advantage for French meat compared to imported meat.

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems , Animal Genetics
Associated Centre(s):
Val de Loire


1- Beauclercq S, Nadal-Desbarats L, Hennequet-Antier C, Collin A, Tesseraud S, Bourin M, Le Bihan-Duval E, Berri C. 2016. Serum and Muscle Metabolomics for the Prediction of Ultimate pH, a Key Factor for Chicken-Meat Quality. J. Proteome Res. 15:1168-1178.

2- Alnahhas N, Le Bihan-Duval E, Baéza E, Chabault M, Chartrin P, Bordeau T, Cailleau-Audouin E, Meteau K, Berri C. 2015. Impact of divergent selection for ultimate pH of pectoralis major muscle on biochemical, histological, and sensorial attributes of broiler meat. J. Anim. Sci. 93: 4524-4531.

3- Alnahhas N, Berri C, Boulay M, Baéza E, Jégo Y, Baumard Y, Chabault M, Le Bihan-Duval E. 2014. Selecting broiler chickens for ultimate pH of breast muscle: analysis of divergent selection experiment and phenotypic consequences on meat quality, growth, and body composition traits. J. Anim. Sci. 92: 3816-3824.