a1 North Carolina State University, Department of Poultry Science, Raleigh, NC, USA 27695
a2 Hebrew University, Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Animal Science, Rehovot, Israel 76100
Growth performance and meat yield of commercial broilers and turkeys has improved linearly each year during the past four decades (Havenstein et al., 2003b; Havenstein et al., 2003a; Havenstein et al., 2007), and this trend is likely to continue in the future as new technologies in genetics, biotechnology and developmental biology are adopted by the poultry industry. As the time it takes meat birds to achieve market size decreases, the period of embryonic development becomes a greater proportion of a bird's productive life. Therefore, incubation and embryonic development towards hatch is of greater relative importance to the successful rearing of meat poultry than ever before (Hulet 2007; Foye et al., 2007b). Consequently, anything that supports or limits growth and development during the incubation period will have a marked effect on overall growth performance and health of modern strains of meat poultry. Many poultry researchers now realize that future gains in genetic and production potential of poultry will come from advancements made during the incubation period and embryogenesis (Elibol et al., 2002; Peebles et al., 2005; Christensen et al., 2007; Collin et al., 2007; Leksrisompong et al., 2007). The urgent need to explore and understand the biology of incubation has been emphasised by several symposia: two held at the annual conference of the U.S. Poultry Science Society (July 2006-Edmonton, Alberta, Canada “Managing the embryo for performance”, and July 2007-San Antonio, TX Informal Nutrition Meeting “The impact of imprinting on biological and economical performance in animals”), and one held by the European Federation of World Poultry Science Society (October 2007-Berlin, Germany “Fundamental physiology and perinatal development in poultry), which were specifically devoted to demonstrating the importance of the embryonic period on poultry performance. This review will summarise the metabolic events and pathways in four of the most active tissues of embryos during the period just prior to hatch, and the hormonal control that coordinates the marked changes as the embryo prepares for its post-hatch life.
(Received May 22 2008)
(Accepted August 20 2008)