Mitochondrial content is a fundamental cellular bioenergetic phenotype. Previous work has hypothesised possible links between variation in muscle mitochondrial content and animal performance. However, no population screens have been performed in any production species. Here, we have designed a high throughput molecular approach to estimate mitochondrial content in commercial broilers. Technical validity was established using several approaches including its performance in monoclonal DF-1 cells, cross-tissue comparisons in tissues with differing metabolic demands (white fat<breast muscle<drumstick muscle<heart muscle) and, as a negative control, a near absence of mtDNA amplification from whole blood. We screened breast muscle and thigh muscle in 80 birds individually phenotyped for 11 growth and development traits. Substantial individual variation (5-fold) was discovered in both breast and thigh muscle mitochondrial content. Interestingly, across birds we detected a very strong positive relationship between breast and thigh content (correlation coefficient 0.61; P<0.0001), consistent with coordinate regulatory control across the musculature. Further, breast muscle mitochondrial content is negatively correlated with breast muscle yield (−0.27; P=0.037), abdominal fat content (−0.31; P=0.017) and carcass yield (−0.26; P=0.045). Therefore, low breast muscle mitochondrial content is associated with more muscular birds possessing higher abdominal fat, the latter being in line with biomedical models of obesity. Finally, thigh mitochondrial content is negatively correlated with the bow out leg defect (−0.30; P=0.011). Overall, our data point to mitochondrial content as a promising consideration in predictive modelling of production traits.
- Received November 1, 2016.
- Accepted November 22, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
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