The first gene-edited birds – scientists are trying to fix our chickens – Innovita Research

The first gene-edited birds – scientists are trying to fix our chickens

There are no wild chickens. It is an animal that humans pretty much invented by breeding wild fowls. And we continue improving our chickens until they have all of our desired characteristics. There are more chickens in the world than any other bird and it is incredibly important for us as a food source. Now scientists from the University of Edinburgh find a way to boost breeding of endangered chicken breeds.

A chicken of a rare breed. Image credit: grassrootsgroundswell via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Some chicken breeds are incredibly rare. That is due to them not matching our standards. We want chicken that is easy to maintain and grow and that tastes nice. Some breeds are difficult to expand and some are so messed up that many chickens are cannot actually produce their own chicks. Now scientists used gene-editing techniques to boost breeding of endangered birds and improve production of commercial hens. They injected specialised stem cells (primordial germ cells) from chickens of one breed right into eggs of chicken from another breed.

These eggs from the surrogate chickens hatched successfully. The resulting hens then were able to produce eggs containing all of the genetic information from the other chicken breed. This could potentially save some endangered birds and very rare chicken breeds. The technique itself could be useful for chicken industry as a whole. That is because the gene-editing tool called TALEN can be used to delete a section of chicken DNA.

Now scientists targeted part of a gene called DDX4. It is crucial for bird’s fertility – it plays a significant role in the generation of primordial germ cells, which gives rise to eggs. Hens with genetic modification were healthy, but could not produce eggs. Researchers say that this achievement proves how useful this gene-editing tool can be. It could be used to preserve some endangered bird species using primordial germ cells from closely related species.

Dr Mike McGrew, one of the authors of the study, said: “New ideas are needed if we are to save many of our bird species. These chickens are a first step in saving and protecting rare poultry breeds from loss and preserving future biodiversity of our poultry from environmental and climate changes”.

Gene editing is a very useful tool, which, hopefully, will improve our food production. World’s population is ballooning out of proportion and we will need more and more cheap food. At the same time we want our animals to have a decent standard of the quality of life and hopefully these goals can be met without significant sacrifices.


Source: University of Edinburgh