Genetically engineered chickens are immune to avian flu

Genetically engineered chickens are immune to avian flu

How far can research go? Scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh have manipulated the genetic makeup of chickens in such a way that the animals can no longer transmit the avian influenza virus A / H5N1. Animals that are already ill will still die.

The science team led by Laurence Tiley are currently reporting in the scientific journal "Science" that they have transplanted an artificially created tiny molecule into the genetic makeup of chickens, which creates a genetic material in the cells of the test animals. According to the researchers, this newly created RNA molecule (RNA, ribonucleic acid) blocks the protein substance polymerase, which is important for the A / H5N1 pathogen, and which is indispensable for the multiplication of viruses. The genetic manipulation is intended to prevent the bird flu virus from multiplying and spreading to other animals. If a genetically modified chicken becomes infected with the virus, the pathogens can no longer reproduce in the animal's body cells. The reason for this is the polymerase described, which is now blocked by the RNA molecule. This stops the virus from multiplying and the A / H5N1 virus can no longer infect other animals. The already sick animals die, while the healthy ones have not been infected.

The scientists themselves speak of "encouraging results", even if further research would be necessary to confirm the results. The scientists explicitly point out that the genetically modified chickens are not yet suitable for the market. "Our chickens are only for research, not for consumption," wrote study leader Tiley. (Science magazine "Science" (Vol. 331, p. 223).

Avian flu pandemic warning level 3 The World Health Organization (WHO) has still set the pandemic warning level to three for bird flu. This level means that you have been waiting for a pandemic to break out since 2006, assuming that the virus will eventually mutate. Because the pathogen can not only be transmitted from animal to animal, but also from animals to humans. This in turn could lead to a significantly higher risk of infection.

An increased interest in the results should not be so much with the WHO, but rather with the agricultural and food industry. In ever larger mass production facilities, more and more animals are crammed together. The animals are given just the size of a DIN A4 sheet to live. The animals suffer from constant stress in sites and, as a result, from a weakened immune system. If only one animal becomes infected, the infection rate is enormous and all animals must be killed. This in turn means a high financial risk for the mass animal facility.

The participating researcher Helen Sang from Edinburgh was very pleased with the successful study. The manipulation of the genes could possibly be a better protection against viral infections than any flu vaccination. It could even be that genetic manipulation works even if the bird flu virus has already mutated. For poultry farms, applied genetic engineering is an inexpensive and "efficient method". This method could be used in the near future against all possible diseases, not only against the H5N1 virus. Because mostly animals in mass holdings do not suffer from the bird flu virus, but because of the keeping often from actually harmless infections, which are highly "explosive breeding grounds for disease germs", in which even harmless germs can become a serious health problem, like animal rights activists from "Animal & Man" "To complain again and again. To alleviate this situation, a completely genetically modified animal is supposed to be created that is supposed to be immune to all strains of the virus.

Progress in terms of factory farming or health?
It is still completely unclear how such a serious intervention affects the animal's genetic makeup. It also remains unclear how the manipulations affect the consumption of animals in humans. There is still the critical consumer who does not easily eat genetically modified chickens. However, instead of relying on sustainable and ecological agriculture for the poultry industry, more and more research is being carried out in order to make mass animal production cost-effective and profitable. Approval of the procedure by the authorities may be difficult at the moment, but the interest groups are already in the starting blocks to advance genetic engineering in the area of ​​"chicken production". According to veterinarians with an intact immune system, healthy free-range animals naturally develop antibodies that protect against the more harmless H5N2 virus. Genetic manipulation of the animals would be a further step towards unnaturality with unforeseeable consequences for animals and humans. (sb)

Also read:
Dangerous bird flu virus or harmless?
Avian flu viruses detected
Pros and cons of genetic diagnosis

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