Image default
Synthetic Biology Technology

Researchers produce gene-edited chicken cells to halt bird flu.

“We have long known that chickens are a reservoir for flu viruses that might spark the next pandemic.”

UK-based scientists have used gene-editing techniques to stop the bird flu virus from spreading, in chicken cells grown in the lab.

According to the team behind the work, the findings raise the possibility of producing gene-edited chickens that are resistant to flu. This could potentially prevent the birds from being a major reservoir for pandemic strains of the virus.

The researchers, from Imperial (@imperialcollege) and University of Edinburgh (@EdinburghUni), have so far been able to prevent the virus from taking hold by deleting a small section of chicken DNA inside lab-grown cells.

In a statement, the team said the next step will be to try to produce chickens with the genetic change, but no birds have yet been produced.

“We have long known that chickens are a reservoir for flu viruses that might spark the next pandemic,” said Professor Wendy Barclay, Chair in Influenza Virology at Imperial.

She added: “In this research, we have identified the smallest possible genetic change we can make to chickens that can help to stop the virus taking hold. This has the potential to stop the next flu pandemic at its source.”

In the latest study, researchers targeted a specific protein inside chicken cells, called ANP32A.

Professor Barclay’s team at Imperial found that during infection, influenza viruses hijack this protein to help replicate themselves.



Working with experts from Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, they edited the cells’ DNA to remove a small section responsible for producing the protein, so removing the virus’s vehicle for replicating.

They found the virus was no longer able to grow inside cells with the genetic change.

Previous research from the Roslin Institute and Cambridge University produced genetically modified chickens that did not transmit bird flu to other chickens following infection. The new approach is different because it does not involve introducing new genetic material into the bird’s DNA, but a small deletion.

Dr Mike McGrew, from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said: “This is an important advance that suggests we may be able to use gene-editing techniques to produce chickens that are resistant to bird flu.

“We haven’t produced any birds yet and we need to check if the DNA change has any other effects on the bird cells before we can take this next step.”


If you were interested in this synthetic biology story, you may also be interested in the below.

Download: New report: Bringing synthetic biology innovations to commercial scale.

Read: The chemical innovation taking anti-cancer compounds out of the sea slug and into the lab.

Read:Expert View: How synthetic biology offers solutions for Mars colonization.

Read:Expert View: How China is catching up with the US in new applications of synthetic biology.

Read: Synthetic biology breakthrough could ignite cheaper biofuel production.

Read: Expert View: The importance of metrology in realizing our synthetic biology potential.

Related posts

Biomimicry; an imitation of life offering huge potential.

Holly Williams

Transforming leftover lignin into carbon fiber for cars and planes.

Luke Upton

US scientists harness synthetic biology to co-produce high-value compounds in plants.

Liz Gyekye

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More