Researchers are doing strenuous work to create chickens genetically modified to resist bird flu that will hopefully stop the spreading of the deadly poultry virus that could potentially explode into a pandemic if matters grow worse.
An estimated number of 48 million chickens and turkeys have died in the United States due to avian flu since last December, and scientists are still attempting to figure out the best way to combat it. It is believed that is has been brought over by migrating birds, such as ducks, which could mean a potential return come winter.
Humans working with the infected birds are at high risk, but so far, only vaccines seem like the most promising solution to the problem, However, they are not without their own problems, since many countries refuse meat from nations who have injected their poultry with the vaccine to combat the virus. It fixes an issue, but then creates another.
While other teams are in development of a proper H5N2 virus vaccine, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute are working on creating something a bit different. They have created genetically modified chickens that are purposefully born to inhibit the virus’ reproduction.
And, hopefully, one day, they might be able to alter their genetic structure to be entirely resistant to the bird flu.
A “decoy gene” within the chickens successfully tricks the virus upon contact into copying it instead of reproducing itself. Its spreading method proved to be quite successful, but now researchers are attempting to work on an actual resistance that would put an end to it altogether.
Simply because the virus cannot spread from the genetically modified chickens to the regular chickens, does not mean it is dead. In fact, it could potentially allow it to evolve into a stronger form, which makes it all the more vital for them to create a fully resistant gene that will prevent initial infection.
They tested the genetically modified chickens in a container with regular chickens, and infected ones to test their resistance. The lab-made chicks certainly showed lesser vulnerability and a much slower rate of infection, but they were reportedly not 100% immune just yet.
Further research is needed, as so far, they had only managed to contain the virus, but its elimination is more gravely needed. According to one of the researchers, Laurence Tiley from the University of Cambridge, by preventing the virus transmission, it could “reduce de economic impact of the disease”, and reduce the risk of people becoming infected after consuming the afflicted birds.
However, the genetically modified chickens are currently not for commercial use, and strictly kept within laboratories for further experiments.
Image source: nature.com