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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2008 Mar-Apr;81(2):235-45. doi: 10.1086/524149.

Enhanced C-type lysozyme content of wood duck (Aix sponsa) egg white: an adaptation to cavity nesting?

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Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada.


Wild waterfowl species often nest in conditions where high humidity and microbial contamination may influence egg survival and quality. Albumen is traditionally regarded as the major impediment to microbial contamination of eggs, and its composition and activity may be selected by environmental pressures. Egg white protein from the eggs of wood duck (Aix sponsa), hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), and mute swan (Cygnus olor) was evaluated in order to compare the antimicrobial defenses of these species. Ovotransferrin and ovalbumin were identified in all species, but c-type lysozyme was present only in wood duck and hooded merganser egg white samples. Wood duck egg white showed the greatest bacterial activity as well as the highest lysozyme content. Egg white from wood duck and hooded merganser possessed greater lysozyme activity under acidic conditions, suggesting a c-type lysozyme with a pH optimum lower than that of Gallus gallus c-type lysozyme or the presence of g-type lysozyme. Ovotransferrin bacteriostatic activity appeared to be similar across the species investigated. The results suggest that lysozyme and ovotransferrin play a role in the antimicrobial defense of the avian egg. High levels of the broad-acting c-type lysozyme appear to have evolved in the albumen of the wood duck in order to ensure proper development of the embryo in the humid conditions of the cavity nest.

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