Scientists alter chicken DNA to fight bird flu

British scientists have discovered that we can protect birds from bird flu by editing two genes in two animals. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, may represent a new strategy to fight the virus.

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Bird flu keeps authorities on alert

  • Since 2022, multiple cases of bird flu have been recorded around the world, resulting in the deaths of thousands of birds.
  • Between April and June 2023 alone, there were 98 domestic cases of avian influenza and 634 cases in 25 European countries, second only to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
  • Experts have warned that the virus has undergone significant mutations, or that it increases the risk of the disease spreading to humans, in addition to raising concerns about the possibility of a new pandemic.
  • Information as European News.
Nurse wearing safety equipment protects Galinia
Bird flu is a concern for health authorities around the world (Credit: Peter Garrard Beck/Getty Images)

Another option is to edit two chicken genes

For the first time in history, researchers have made specific edits to the ANP32 gene, which is critical for supporting influenza viruses inside chicken cells. The aim is to prevent infected cells from replicating and thus interrupt the evolution of the disease.

Experiments will show that all samples that pass this version show greater resistance to the virus. However, when you are exposed to a higher amount of viral load, infection can occur.

We can make progress in making chickens resistant to viruses, but we still don’t know. We need more versions – more powerful versions – to truly curb the replication of the virus.

Wendy Barclay, influenza expert and professor at Imperial College London

The researchers now want to perform three specific gene edits on chicken cells, with the aim of enhancing the birds’ protection against viruses.

In contrast, genetic modification introduces foreign genes, and gene editing changes genes that already exist. The technology is considered less controversial but lacks regulation in some countries.

Gene editing offers a promising route to permanently combating diseases that can be passed on from generation to generation, protecting birds and reducing risks to humans and wild birds. Our work shows that stopping the spread of avian influenza in chickens requires multiple genetic changes simultaneously.

Mike McGrow, professor at the University of Edinburgh and lead researcher on the study

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