Friday, September 18, 2015

Glowing, Resistant, and Safe?

Written by Stephen Kenney
Scientists at Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities have successfully developed genetically modified (also known as transgenic) chickens that can stem the transmission of avian influenza virus.  The GMO chickens are not immune to the virus, but they do not transmit the infection to other members of the flock.   This would prevent whole poultry houses from being lost to the virus. 

Researchers at the Roslin Institute at Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine injected a gene into the chickens that is specifically designed to produce molecules that stop the flu virus from reproducing.  The molecule is an RNA molecule that mimics the region of the flu virus genome that controls virus replication. 

The “decoy” gene is injected into a collection of cells on the yolk of a freshly laid egg.  The researchers refer to it as a “decoy” because these molecules bind and divert the flu virus enzyme from its crucial functions that are required for virus replication.  The research has thus far shown that the birds are not adversely affected in any way from the modification.  The experimental chickens were also injected with a fluorescent protein that makes the birds glow under ultraviolet light.  The protein is injected to help the researchers distinguish the GMO chickens from the traditional chickens.  Pictures of the chickens can be seen here.

The researchers believe that these GMO chickens would be safe to eat.  They believe that the nature of the genetic modification is such that it is very unlikely that consuming the GMO chickens, or eggs they would produce, could have any negative effect on people.  Any use of the chickens or eggs for food would have to be approved by the appropriate agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration in the US, and the European Food Safety Authority in Europe.

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