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Earth Medicine Science Technology

Genetically-Modified 'Surrogate Hens' Could Lay Eggs of Rare Chicken Breeds, Scientists Say (theguardian.com) 33

In an effort to preserve rare varieties of chicken breeds and diversify the chicken gene pool, scientists at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute have come up with a plan to breed genetically-modified chickens designed to act as surrogates that would be capable of laying eggs from any rare breed. Such rare breeds include the Nankin, Scots Dumpy and Sicilian Buttercup. The Guardian reports: The surrogacy technique, which places a new, mind-bending twist on the classic chicken or egg question, involves first genetically engineering hens to be sterile. This is done by deleting a gene, called DDX4, that is required for the development of primordial follicles (the precursors to eggs) meaning that the surrogate hens will never lay eggs that are biologically their own. The next step will be to transplant follicles from rare birds into the surrogate (this is done before the surrogate chick is hatched from its own egg), meaning it would go on to lay eggs belonging to entirely different breeds of chicken. Given that the hens would also need to be artificially inseminated with sperm from the same rare variety, the approach may appear unnecessarily convoluted. Why not just breed the rare birds the normal way? The scientists' ultimate goal is to create a gene bank of chicken breeds preserved for posterity, and since primordial follicles can be frozen efficiently, while eggs cannot, the surrogacy technique serves an essential work-around. Mike McGrew, who is leading the project and is the first author on a paper on the work published this week in the journal Development, predicts that the surrogates will be able to lay eggs from any breed, including chicken's wild predecessor, the red junglefowl, but he is doubtful about whether it will work efficiently across species -- it is not likely that the surrogate hens will be giving birth to eagle chicks, for instance. Richard Broad, a field officer for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, agreed that rare chickens could be a source of valuable genetic variation, potentially carrying variants that would provide resistance against new forms of avian flu. At present, the team is focused on chicken breeds, but expects the technique to work to preserve rare varieties of ducks, geese and quail.
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Genetically-Modified 'Surrogate Hens' Could Lay Eggs of Rare Chicken Breeds, Scientists Say

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  • I always said the egg came first!

  • "...it is not likely that the surrogate hens will be giving birth to eagle chicks..." - I know for a fact that this is impossible since birds do not give birth!

  • I prefer my chicken well done

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Saturday February 18, 2017 @09:46AM (#53891603)

    How about 'chicken breeds preserved so chicken actually tastes like chicken again'? I'm an old fart, and chicken tastes vastly more bland than it did when I was a kid. And no, it's not just the 'everything was better back then' syndrome. When I was in Guyana I ate meat from fully-grown chickens that weren't all that much bigger than just the breasts of the chickens we get here, and its flavour took me back to the chicken I used to eat as a kid.

    The chickens we buy in supermarkets have been bred to attain maximum weight in the minimum amount of time possible; they have also been bred to have a higher survival rate during transport, and to be more disease resistant. With these genetic alterations, they just taste bland - rather like most tomatoes today, and for much the same reasons.

    • The chickens we buy in supermarkets have been bred to attain maximum weight in the minimum amount of time possible; they have also been bred to have a higher survival rate during transport, and to be more disease resistant. With these genetic alterations, they just taste bland - rather like most tomatoes today, and for much the same reasons.

      Are you sure that the difference you're detecting isn't down to what they're eating? Gallena de patio commonly consumes a far more varied diet than a factory-farmed, never-sees-the-sun-but-we-can-still-call-it-cage-free bird.

      • Are you sure that the difference you're detecting isn't down to what they're eating? Gallena de patio commonly consumes a far more varied diet than a factory-farmed, never-sees-the-sun-but-we-can-still-call-it-cage-free bird.

        Good point - hadn't thought of it. Thanks.

      • by chiefmojorising ( 114811 ) on Saturday February 18, 2017 @02:06PM (#53892577)

        That's part of it. The chicken you get from a store is almost certainly a Cornish Cross, which reaches market weight in something like 5 weeks for a fryer and 8 weeks for a broiler. Heritage breeds (read: "real" chickens) take 20-22 weeks to reach maturity. The meat is very, very different -- dark meat is *dark*, far more flavorful, and requires more time / different methods to cook since the muscles have actually been used. CC's mostly do two things: eat and shit. They really don't move around a whole lot.

        Anyway, CC's don't really forage a whole lot anyway, so even if they're raised in a manner that they can eat grass, bugs, etc. they usually don't -- they plop down in front of a feeder and just gorge. They're *amazing* birds, but their quality of life is horrible. It's impossible to beat them on feed conversion ratio, though, which is why that's pretty much all you see. There are some other breeds making their way into the market that take 3-4 more weeks to reach maturity but they're still very, very much in the minority.

  • This is going to do wonders to prevent the extinction of the chocobos! I can't wait to up the population and finally breed a black chocobo! [wikia.com] ;)

  • I can't make head or tail of this 'convoluted workaround'

    1. Take an expensive sterile chicken. (since they're sterile, you can't breed them, you have to buy them)
    2. Kill an expensive, rare chicken to get the follicles.
    3. Put those follicles into the expensive sterile chicken.
    4. Get rare chicks to kill and take follicles to freeze.

    The only thing that i can think of is that the expensive, sterile chicken can lay 400 eggs a year and the rare chicken only a dozen or so.

    • Maybe you should RTFA? The follicles survive freezing, so they're a good long-term backup medium. A genetic thumb drive that you keep at your friend's house, if you like. If the breed goes extinct defrost the follicles, implant in a mother hen, and you're good to go.

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