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Bird breeds at risk may benefit from chicken cell study

Rare bird breeds that are at risk could be saved from extinction thanks to new research.

November 2015

Doctors Sherman and McGrew holding chickens

Dr Mike McGrew and colleagues have devised an improved formula for growing primordial germ cells - the cells that give rise to sperm and eggs - from chickens. The Roslin Institute team has identified the factors that are needed to grow chicken primordial germ cells in the laboratory, without the need for blood products. This new approach is more reliable than previous methods and has a lower risk of passing on disease.

The technique could be used to freeze stocks of these specialised cells from rare chicken breeds and create a biobank to preserve rare breeds for future generations.

Chickens are one of the most important agricultural species with more than 59 billion bred each year for meat and egg production. Experts are keen to preserve rare breeds because they may carry useful genetic information that makes them resistant to existing - and future - diseases. These genes could be bred into farmed chickens to improve their resilience to disease.

Rare chicken breeds may also carry genes that enable them to thrive in different environments. Breeding these genes into commercial breeds could help farmers improve the productivity of their stock in the face of a changing climate.

This research marks a major step forward in our ability to preserve rare bird breeds. It also opens the door to using gene-editing techniques in birds, which could help us to produce birds with greater disease resistance. It is a significant advance in our quest to safeguard the food chain in the face of a changing climate.

Dr Mike McGrew

The full details of the study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, can be found here:

FGF, Insulin, and SMAD Signaling Cooperate for Avian Primordial Germ Cell Self-Renewal


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