A group of scientists from Britain may have developed the breakthrough technology that could lead to the optimal prevention of bird flu - glow-in-the-dark chickens. Early genetic modification experiments have shown good outcomes thus, the researchers are hopeful that the medical outbreak that has stricken the poultry industry of the U.S. may be eradicated.
The researchers from Cambridge and the Roslin Institute in the University of Edinburgh turn to genetic engineering to achieve their two main objectives, which are to obstruct the primary infection in chickens that lay eggs and to halt infected birds from spreading the virus.
To achieve their goals, the scientists administered a deceptive type of gene into the yolk cells of an egg that has just been laid to create a genetically modified organism (GMO). As the chick grows, the injected gene will remain and will be passed on to the next of kin. Together with the said gene, the researchers also injected a fluorescent protein that makes the feet and beaks of the birds glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. If the birds are deemed for commercial purposes, the birds are not to be bred to glow.
The deceptive gene is the main factor that could help prevent the birds from contracting bird flu. When the genetically modified birds are exposed to the virus, its genetic code will lure the pathogen into copying the deceptive gene and suppressing its ability to replicate itself.
The scientists then put together 16 unmodified chickens infected with bird flu, 16 healthy unmodified chickens and 16 GMO chicken with the deceptive gene. After the experiment, they found that the GMO birds exhibited slower affectation and less susceptibility to the infection compared with the unmodified birds, said Laurence Tiley, one of the researchers and a molecular virology senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge.
The research was partly funded by chicken breeding companies EW Group from Germany and Cobb-Vantress from Arkansas. Although they extended their support to the research, both firms also have their own skeptical takes on breeding GMO products.
EW Group is keen to find out the manner with which chickens respond to flu, said Jim McKay, the company's science and technology group director. Nonetheless, he stated that the EW Group has a company policy against breeding GMO animals and thinks that the market is not yet ready to accept it.
U.S. company Cobb-Vantress halted extending support to GMO chickens at the moment as no verified commercial use has been identified, said Mitch Abrahamsen, the company's vice president for research and development.
Bird flu has been a pandemic concern for researchers over the last 10 years because of the hazardous risks it poses on the health of humans and in the poultry industry. Although the U.S. was not affected by the latest outbreak, some cases in Asia have been detected over the recent years.
Photo: Amy | Flickr