UK scientists have discovered that chickens can be protected from bird flu by editing the animal’s genes. The results of the study are published in the journal Natural communication And may indicate a new strategy to fight the virus.
Officials have been alerted by bird flu
- Since 2022, several bird flu cases have been recorded worldwide, resulting in thousands of bird deaths.
- Between April and June 2023 alone, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported 98 domestic outbreaks and 634 bird flu cases in 25 European countries.
- Experts warn that the virus has undergone major mutations, raising fears of a new pandemic and increasing the risk of spreading the disease to humans.
- Information from Euronews.
Editing chicken genes is an alternative
For the first time in history, researchers have made specific edits to a gene called ANP32, which is essential for harboring the flu virus inside chicken cells. Its purpose is to prevent diseased cells from replicating and preventing the progression of the disease.
Tests have shown that almost all genetically edited chickens are highly resistant to the virus. However, when animals were exposed to high levels of viral load, epidemics were able to develop.
We may make progress in creating virus-resistant chickens, but we’re not there yet. To truly shut down the replication of the virus, we need more fixes — more robust fixes.
Wendy Barclay, a flu specialist and professor at Imperial College London
Researchers now want to make three specific genetic edits to chicken cells with the aim of boosting the birds’ defenses against the virus.
Unlike genetic modification, which introduces foreign genes, gene editing alters existing genes. The technology is considered less controversial, but is not regulated in some countries.
Gene editing offers a promising path to permanent disease resistance that can be passed down through generations, protecting birds and reducing risks to humans and wild birds. Our work shows that stopping the spread of bird flu in chickens requires multiple genetic changes at the same time.
Mike McGraw, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, is the study’s lead researcher
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