Researchers at Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge have succeeded in introducing a ‘decoy’ molecule into chicken which has the effect of preventing the chicken spreading live virus should it become infected by avian influenza.
This work was published on 13 January 2011. The British Poultry Council welcomes this important work, which has succeeded in proving the principle that genetic modification of farmed animals is possible to make them more resistant to particular diseases.
This outcome in chickens has important implications for future disease prevention, particularly in countries where avian influenza remains a significant risk.
Chickens were a convenient species in which to test this technology but the approach has wider and perhaps even more useful eventual application against viral diseases in other farmed species. It has the potential to improve the health and productivity of farmed animals in countries around the world where serious endemic diseases affect the livelihoods of subsistence and village farming communities, and commercial farmers alike.
Further, this technology has potential to substantially reduce the global environmental impact of livestock farming, with fewer animals needing to be reared because fewer animals are succumbing to serious disease, resulting in considerably reduced inputs of scarce feed, water and land area.
However, this particular scientific development is still a long way from possible commercial application. A lot more work is needed over generations of animals to assess the long term effects of the decoy molecule on the animals and their susceptibility to the target disease, and to other diseases that affect the animals. We urge that these further studies be undertaken and funding be available for this necessary work.
Most importantly, society will have to decide whether it wants this kind of technology taken forward in farmed animals. This debate and society’s acceptance of the benefits are essential before UK poultry producers would consider taking up such technology in their birds.
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