Poultry Genomics Laboratory

Chris M. Ashwell, PhD


Associate Professor of Animal Genomics, with a dual appointment consisting of 70% Research and 30% Teaching

I received my B.S. Biochemistry and Nutrition from Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) in 1992. I continued my education at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University and received my Ph.D in Biochemistry in 1997. My graduate work focused on the characterization of the peptide substrate binding properties of the eukaryotic signal peptidase enzyme complex.

I then received a USDA headquarters funded postdoctoral position in the Growth Biology Laboratory of the USDA’s Agriculture Research service at Beltsville, MD. After 3 years with ARS, I was hired as a Research Molecular Biologist.  Thanks goes out to my mentor Dr. John McMurtry.

In 2003, I joined the faculty of NCSU in the department of Poultry Science.

The major research focus of my group is to identify the gene(s) underlying traits of economic importance in poultry. 

These efforts include the use of resource populations and the collection of relevant phenotypes to search for  genes responsible for mendelian traits as well as quantitative trait loci (QTL) which may be used to incorporate marker assisted selection into commercial operations. 

A recent resource population that has been developed consists of reciprocal crosses of lines divergently selected for antibody response to sheep red blood cells.  The F2 generation of this population was genotyped in an effort to identify QTL associated with antibody response and other traits. Other efforts include the use of functional genomics to evaluate gene expression profiles using both microarray approaches as well as real-time quantitative PCR.  These approaches have been used recently to evaluate the response of chickens to nutritional manipulation in ovo, post hatch, and throughout the growth period. 

Gene expression studies have been used to identify candidate genes for the cause of hyperpigmentation in the Silkie breed of chicken.  The expression patterns of functional candidate genes have also been investigated for the cause of ascites syndrome in lines of chickens divergently selected for resistance or susceptibility to ascites. 

Recent environmental concerns have focused on reduction of animal wastes, which may be addressed by producing more efficient livestock. Our studies are some of the first to focus on nutritional and thus environmental impact of poultry production from a genetic point of view. The outcome of this research will provide a means to improve the innate ability of poultry to utilize environmentally important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, therefore reducing their excretion, and therefore greatly aid in reducing the cost of poultry litter disposal and in maintaining the productivity of the poultry industry.

This multi-faceted approach provides much needed information regarding the genetic location (marker) and or possible causative genes responsible for traits which can have a significant impact on the poultry industry.  The ability to make selection decisions using these markers will allow the poultry industry to accelerate genetic improvement of commercial stocks.


Bio and Research Program

My research interests have been to identify the genetic basis underlying traits in poultry. The focus on quantitative traits in the recent past has left many Mendelian traits unexplored and this is where our work will lead us in the future