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Transgenic chicken developed to stop bird flu

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Bird flu treatment

Researchers have developed a chicken that can get sick from Avian or bird flu, but won't spread the disease.

Scientists at Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh have come up with a way to protect the public from Avian flu that caused a furor over fears the disease would spread globally.

The genetically modified (transgenic) chickens won't make other birds sick, even those that are not genetically modified. The researchers say transgenic chickens means less risk of bird flu in humans.

In order to create an Avian flu free bird, the researchers introduced a gene into the chickens that produces a "decoy molecule" that stops the bird flu virus from replicating.

Dr Laurence Tiley, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Virology from the University of Cambridge, Department of Veterinary Medicine, explains, "The decoy mimics an essential part of the flu virus genome that is identical for all strains of influenza A.

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We expect the decoy to work against all strains of avian influenza and that the virus will find it difficult to evolve to escape the effects of the decoy. This is quite different from conventional flu vaccines, which need to be updated in the face of virus evolution as they tend only to protect against closely matching strains of virus and do not always prevent spread within a flock."

Professor Helen Sang, from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh says the findings are "exciting" because the scientists found a way to genetically manipulate chickens for their own welfare, ..."that cannot be achieved by animal breeding.

She says it "demonstrates the potential of GM to improve animal welfare in the poultry industry. This work could also form the basis for improving economic and food security in many regions of the world where bird flu is a significant problem."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) who funded the study, said: "Infectious diseases of livestock represent a significant threat to global food security and the potential of pathogens, such as bird flu, to jump to humans and become pandemic has been identified by the Government as a top level national security risk."

Transgenic , genetically modified chickens might ensure the security of our nation from the threat of Avian flu that has raised concerns about reaching epidemic proportions from increasing rates of infections in humans. Threats of bird flu have also prompted drug companies to develop expensive vaccines that would not likely work because of viral mutation.

Science 14 January 2011:
Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 132-133
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6014.132-a