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New genetically modified chicken immune to bird flu

World Events

New genetically modified chicken immune to bird flu

Jorge Hernandez January 14, 2011

U.K. scientists at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh have developed the first genetically modified chicken that is immune to the spread of bird flu.

An artificial gene was inserted into the chickens that contained part of the virus, which served to infect the birds that received the gene but transform the virus into a benign version of itself that would be harmless to other birds.

"The chickens have an extra piece of DNA inserted into their genomes which produces a 'decoy' molecule that blocks the replication of the influenza virus and prevents transmission to the rest of the flock," according to the U.K.'s Independent.

The scientists, who presented their findings to the January 14 issue of Science journal, concluded that this new development shows that it will be possible in the future to create farm animals that are immune to infectious diseases as well as lessen the likelihood that they would transmit the viruses to humans.

Cambridge University's Dr. Laurence Tiley told Business Week that the prevention of disease transmission could reduce risks to the economic welfare of farmers as well as the health of affected humans and animals.

The scientists also speculate that consumers may be more accepting of genetically modified farm animals than they are of GM crops.

"We believe the attitude of the UK public to GM food depends on the nature and purpose of the genetic modification. Disease resistance is clearly a beneficial characteristic for animal welfare and public health," researcher Laurence Tiley told the Independent.

According to the news source, researchers said the decoy gene would serve to protect against all strains of the bird flu virus and that it would render immunizations virtually unnecessary.

Farmers Guardian reports that the chickens were developed at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep, was created.