UK scientists have successfully used gene-editing technology to create chickens that have some resistance to avian flu, offering a potential solution to prevent future outbreaks.
A lethal version, H5N1, has been damaging poultry farms globally in recent years. Since February 2022, the avian flu has directly or indirectly killed over 58 million chickens and turkeys in the US, including recent outbreaks in Utah and South Dakota. As of July, 685 outbreaks have been reported globally.
The researchers used CRISPR technology to alter two amino acids in a chicken protein called ANP32A, which is critical for bird flu virus replication. They then edited chicken embryos to produce 10 chickens with the altered protein before exposing the chickens (and 10 nonedited chickens) to a virus strain—only one gene-edited chicken became infected, compared to all nonedited chickens. When subjected to a viral dose 1,000 times higher, half of the gene-edited chickens were infected but had lower virus levels in their airways.
Regulatory testing and approvals are necessary before gene-edited chickens can be considered for consumption, with an estimated timeline of about 20 years.