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Biotech Medicine United Kingdom

UK Researchers Developing Influenza-Resistant Birds 54

New submitter ravensmith0821 writes: UK researchers are working on disease-resistant chickens, adding a gene to eggs before they hatch that renders the bird less susceptible to avian influenza. Reuters reports: "Their research, which has been backed by the UK government and top chicken companies, could potentially prevent repeats of this year's wipeout: 48 million chickens and turkeys killed because of the disease since December in the United States alone. But these promising chickens - injected with a fluorescent protein to distinguish them from normal birds in experiments - won't likely gatecrash their way into poultry production any time soon. Health regulators around the world have yet to approve any animals bred as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for use in food because of long-standing safety and environmental concerns."
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UK Researchers Developing Influenza-Resistant Birds

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  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @02:21AM (#50492837)

    I mean, ok, with many other genes we introduce to organisms, there's a reason this won't be part of a genetic makeup developed by natural selection. There is no reason for bacteria to produce insulin, that's something we want them to do, that has no benefit for the bacteria themselves. And a terminator gene that ensures its seeds won't germinate is certainly nothing that would survive long in nature, it's something seed manufacturers want to ensure their customers come back and buy more instead of setting aside some for next year.

    But why wouldn't such a gene that allows a species to be resistant against something detrimental to its health develop naturally? One should assume that such a gene should already be part of their genetic makeup. Such individuals would have a significant advantage over others who die from the bird flu.

    One really has to wonder what the drawback of having that gene is...

    • Why not vaccinating poultry in first place?

      • Cost probably. Meat chickens are slaughtered between 30 and 60 days of age. When you consider that according to the British Poultry Organisation that in 2013 the English used 870 million domestically raised birds and about 400 million imported the cost of vaccinating, even at a cents per bird cost, would be huge.

        • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

          British chickens and turkeys have been routinely vaccinated against salmonella for many years now. So much so that almost all salmonella cases in the U.K. can now be traced to meat and eggs that originated outside the U.K.

          My personal view (and I am personally committed to the E.U.) is that George Eustice MP, should get of his lazy backside march over to Brussels and demand the introduction of E.U. wide salmonella vaccination of chickens and turkeys otherwise he is going to ban all imports of non vaccinated

          • It is only the egg producing chickens that are vaccinated for salmonella. Also while it was a legislative requirement at one stage to get UK birds vaccinated it no longer is and instead is an industry code of practice. So it would be a hard one for George to push.

            As a general rule breeder and pullet flocks are vaccinated for a variety of diseases as they are kept for a much longer period than meat chickens. That said there is a mandatory requirement for all chickens to be vaccinated for Newcastle Disease

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2015 @03:37AM (#50493011)

      There likely is no drawback.

      The reason it has no immunity to it is due to the way flu viruses work.
      Their genome is highly unstable, large clumps of it switching around all the time.
      Successful strains thrive, the (mostly) unsuccessful ones die in the host it infected.
      It likely also means that the genome itself is fairly new, evolution-speaking. Or it simply is too random and unpredictable for the body to mount a defence yet.
      Evolution is pretty slow, after all.

      We still don't know for sure if there are people out there that are immune to them. Or classes of them.
      We only just found out recently that there were people immune to large classes of retroviruses like HIV. (which seemed to have developed back in the days of the black plague that wiped out so many people)
      Those people were used to develop the first possible treatment (which was tested and partially succeeded) for HIV.
      The same methodology was also used to treat HPV which is a pretty large case of causing cancer in females, one of the most successful treatments against an oncovirus to date as far as I know. The adverse reactions to it were also fairly low from what I know.
      It is also being used to look at other cancers and using viruses to help create immunity to them.
      Exciting times for cancer research due to this breakthrough in immune research.

      Also, don't forget our seedless fruits. They are pretty self-defeating too.
      But damn do I love seedless grapes. Fuck seeds.

    • The conclusion you have come to is logical but it is also flawed in the concept of evolution. For a gene to evolve to be dominant it needs to give the carriers such a competitive advantage that those that don't carry it die out. Resistance to avian flu would only do that if avian flu was that common that it regularly decimated a population. In reality that gene will exist in the current chicken population but the prevalence of it will be low.

    • ... India

      They were / are called "Red Junglefowl", - Gallus gallus, - a tropical member of the Phasianidae family []

      While there _are_ influenza in the Tropics, it does not occur so often

      That is why chicken have yet the chance to develop that counter-influenza gene

    • Another reason not yet mentioned is that every adaptation is a trade off, and becomes a path that is easier to follow than beginning a new one in order to have the same advantage, chickens have a very well developed innate immunity (interferon, citoquines, etc) as well as a secondary immunity in the form of antibodies against viruses, unfortunately is not very effective against influenza. Nevertheless from the evolutionary point of view trying to improve those mechanisms of defense is much less resource int

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @06:10AM (#50493329)

      How historically widespread is avian flu? Is it something that has existed in nature and been a risk in regions where chickens are raised for food? If avian flu is a new phenomenon or wasn't very common, then why would you expect resistence to it to have developed already?

      I think the other problem is that the current industrial farming paradigm for chickens has probably reduced the genetic diversity of chickens a lot. It may be that over the last 50 years that intensive selective breeding for weight or egg production or whatever the industrial attributes used for chicken farming may have accidentally bred out resistence to all manner of diseases while selecting for other qualities.

      Geographic dispersion of chicken husbandry may also have limited its spread as well as produced enough minor genetic diversity that a virulent strain of the virus couldn't get established.

      It's also possible that chickens breed fast enough that reproduction is a kind of resistence to it. If you can reproduce at fast enough rate, you might produce offspring with natural resistence to prevelant strains of influenza and these birds would grow to dominate.

      Influenza also seems to be one of those viruses that mutates enough that natural resistence is difficult to develop in suceptable mammals for all variants of it.

    • I wonder why we don't have a gene that protects us from Anthrax or the HSV-* class of viruses.
    • There probably isn't a huge drawback to the gene. Evolution is constrained by what it has to work with, and the flu goes through generations faster than chickens do, so it can change faster. I mean, people still die from the flu and other diseases specifically for that reason. It's also why we have an adaptive immune system rather than hard-coding antibodies against pathogens. There's a good chance this will work for a little while and then become significantly less effective over time.
    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      But why wouldn't such a gene that allows a species to be resistant against something detrimental to its health develop naturally?

      I have always wanted to use this answer: because ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

      Evolution proceeds with small changes to existing genes and you do not get spontaneous generation of completely new genes. One reason for this is that there are many more ways to get a gene wrong than right. So while there may be a gene in a species which would provide a significant advantage, a di

  • That settles it: the egg story came before the chicken story.

  • Feminism (Score:2, Funny)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 )

    UK Researchers Developing Influenza-Resistant Birds

    But why concentrate on the women when "man flu" is the real problem?

  • Experimenting on poultry livestock to become more resistant from diseases needs thorough research if this will have some effects the public consumers. We can't just eat anything we don't know especially if it genetically engineered. I am Amy, and I write for e cigarettes reviews [] blog.
  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @11:09AM (#50495505) Homepage

    UK researchers are working on disease-resistant chickens, adding a gene to eggs before they hatch that renders the bird less susceptible to avian influenza.

    Good. I remember growing up in Honduras where most people in the cities, out of necessity raise their own poultry, my family included. On the country side it is obvious, but not so in the cities, in the poor neighborhoods unless you live in them.

    And every awful year, around August, an avian flu would just move across the region, and bro, poultry would die by the thousands. Industrial-level farms would survive it given that their animals were isolated. Poor people in isolated villages would also fare well with their poultry animals.

    But subsistence urban farmers like us, that pestilence would just kill our animals, our only source of affordable meat and eggs. We tried everything - immunization, injection of vitamins prior to the expected pestilence, covering the pens, the floors and walls with ash and limestone (very powerful antiseptic.) Nothing,nothing will work.

    Animals would die by the thousands, thousands and thousands, and we had nothing left to do but to burning the carcasses in pits.

    After many years, we had an epiphany and we started raising Muscovy ducks which are resilient to this pestilence. We had to make adjustments in our little backyard for the animals, but it worked well. When the next round of influenza came, our house was the only one with standing, aliven-n-kicking poultry.

    After that, everyone who could spare the extra space needed for ducks caught on the the idea and made the switch.

    So, although we were able to adapt, many cannot for a variety of reasons. Avian flu has a cost, and a very hard one for poor people in developing countries.

    People in the 1st world sometimes ignore these nuisances and forget that experiments like this can make the difference between children eating an egg a day or just eating boiled millet.

    I can understand the preoccupation with altering the environment, but me, knowing what it is like to grow poor and what it is like to spend days without eating any type of protein, I say to these scientists, go for it.

  • Unkillable incubators for the very worst kinds of influenza!

    What could go wrong?

  • by stevez67 ( 2374822 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @01:08PM (#50496783)

    Health regulators around the world have yet to approve any animals bred as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for use in food because of long-standing paranoia and social media misinformation campaigns."

  • Every tiny little change in everything that we do always has some unintended consequences. And usually it is something that no one sees coming. So yes if we alter a gene in a chicken there is some element of risk. We can not know the long term consequences. But the opposite is also true. We do not know the unintended consequences of not altering that gene either. But saving 48 million food birds is important not only to the farmers but to the public as well. So like everything else in life we roll th

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