Genome editing to prevent bird flu
Gene-editing techniques have been shown to stop the bird flu virus from replicating in chicken cells in the lab.
The study, a collaboration between researchers at Imperial College London, the Pirbright Institute and the Roslin Institute, raises the possibility of producing gene-edited chickens that are resistant to the disease.
Bird flu is a major threat to farmed chickens worldwide, with some strains killing up to 100 per cent of birds in a flock.
In rare instances, specific variants of the virus can infect people and cause serious illness and death. Efforts to control the spread of the disease are urgently needed to protect chickens and to reduce the risk of new human flu pandemics.
Researchers used gene-editing techniques in lab-grown cells to remove a section of DNA responsible for producing ANP32A – a molecule that flu viruses hijack to replicate themselves. The virus was no longer able to grow inside cells with the genetic change.
Their study, published in eLife, builds on previous work where genetic modification was used to produce chickens that became sick when infected with bird flu, but did not pass on the flu infection to other birds. The team’s next step will be to try to produce chickens with the gene-edited change.
The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. PhD student funding was provided by the global poultry research company Cobb-Vantress.
This is an important advance that suggests we may be able to use gene-editing techniques to produce chickens that are resistant to bird flu. We haven’t produced any birds yet and we need to check if the DNA change has any other effects on the bird cells before we can take this next step.