A genetic lead for chickens more resistant to avian flu

Scottish researchers have modified the DNA of ten chickens to make them more resistant to avian influenza. Although some results are encouraging, the study nevertheless has limitations.

“Chickens genetically resistant to bird flu could prevent future outbreaks.” This is the hypothesis of researchers from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in a scientific study, published on October 10, 2023 in Nature communications. At the research center where the cloned sheep Dolly was created, Scottish scientists used Crispr technology on ten hens. This method is also called “genetic scissors” and is used to modify in a targeted manner the support of the genetic heritage, DNA.

Subjected to a low dose of the virus, nine hens were found to be resistant to infection. These first results are promising, especially since this genetic modification can be transmitted to subsequent generations. However, nothing is gained by highlighting certain limits by researchers.

Poultry disease adapts

This “molecular scissors” will stick to a strand of DNA and cut it at a desired location. The DNA helix then repairs itself naturally. In this study, part of the gene is substituted to prevent the production of a protein necessary for the development of avian flu. If this technology proves effective on chickens when the virus is administered in small quantities, this is not the case when the dose varies.

“The administration of a higher dose, however, led to a breakthrough of the infection,” report the authors of the study. In this second phase, only half of the hens did not contract the disease.

Avian flu also seems to have more than one trick up its sleeve. Following genetic modification, the virus fell back on other proteins to ensure its development. Therefore, deleting a single gene sequence does not seem sufficient. Researchers are considering several genetic modifications to combat avian influenza, known for its rapid adaptation.

The vaccination campaign is launched

This study “illustrates a first stage of proof of concept”, according to scientists across the Channel and takes place following the announcement of the launch of the duck vaccination campaign against avian influenza on October 2, 2023 by Marc Fesneau.

The month of October also marks the ban on the importation of unprocessed French poultry from 1er October 2023 by the United States and Canada. On October 6, 2023, Japan joined the movement and imposed restrictions.

Astrid Marguet


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