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Feathering the nest of chicken breed preservation

Important breeds of chicken could be safeguarded from extinction by the latest stem cell technology.

Roslin Institute scientists are finding ways for stem cells to be taken from chicken eggs so that they can be kept in a "Frozen Aviary" and used to bring back breeds of birds wiped out by outbreaks such as avian flu.

They will be stored in a stem cell bank, at the National Avian Research Facility being built at the University of Edinburgh's Easter Bush campus.

Dr Mike McGrew, from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, discussed his research at the TEDxDeExtinction conference in the USA last week.

Research already underway has shown that it is possible to take chicken stem cells directly from the embryo in chickens that can then be used for fertilisation in the future to breed birds.

Using stem cells can help safeguard rare breeds, which could be wiped out as a result of disease. Stem cell technology will also help to ensure that we are able to maintain important breeds, for instance to ensure that we have chickens that can adapt to warmer climates as a result of global warming. It is possible that in the future this research could be applied to endangered species of birds.

Dr Mike McGrewThe Roslin Institute

The £14 million National Avian Research Facility (NARF) will also look at issues affecting avian health, such as the spread of infections. The facility is due to be completed in 2014 and its resources will be made available to researchers around the world.

The construction is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Roslin Foundation and University of Edinburgh.