Scientists have used gene-editing techniques to stop the bird flu virus from spreading in chicken cells grown in the laboratory.
The findings raise the possibility of producing gene-edited chickens that are resistant to the disease.
Researchers prevented the virus from taking hold by deleting a section of chicken DNA inside lab-grown cells.
The next step will be to try to produce chickens with the genetic change. No birds have been produced yet.
Scientists targeted a specific molecule inside chicken cells called ANP32A. Researchers at Imperial College London found that during an infection, flu viruses hijack this molecule to help replicate themselves.
Working with experts from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, the researchers used gene-editing techniques to remove the section of DNA responsible for producing ANP32A.
They found the virus was no longer able to grow inside cells with the genetic change.
Bird flu is a major threat to farmed chickens worldwide, with severe strains killing up to 100 per cent of birds in a flock. In rare instances, certain variations of the virus can infect people and cause serious illness. Efforts to control the spread of the disease are urgently needed.
Researchers at The Roslin Institute previously worked with experts from Cambridge University to produce chickens that did not transmit bird flu to other chickens following infection, using genetic modification techniques. The new approach is different because it does not involve introducing new genetic material into the bird’s DNA.
It’s also important for human health as birds are a significant disease reservoir.