Rare breeds of chickens could soon come from entirely different types of hens. The University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute with help from US biotechnology company Recombinetics used gene editing techniques to create surrogate hens that grow up to produce eggs with all the genetic information of different breeds.

We've seen gene editing and transfer techniques used to create better yeast, bigger trees and even glowing pigs, among numerous other examples, but this is believed to be the first gene-edited bird to come out of Europe.

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The team used a gene editing tool called TALEN (for transcription activator-like effector nucleases), which is similar to the more widely publicized CRISPR/Cas9, to delete part of a chicken gene called DDX4 that is related to fertility. Hens with this modification did not produce eggs but were healthy in all other ways.

The researchers could then take primordial germ cells – specialized cells that lead to the formation of eggs – and implant them into eggs that would eventually hatch into the genetically edited surrogate hens. These hens would then mature to produce eggs that are genetically whatever breed they had been implanted with at that early stage.

"These chickens are a first step in saving and protecting rare poultry breeds from loss in order to preserve future biodiversity of our poultry from both economic and climate stresses," said lead researcher Dr. Mike McGrew.

The research is published in the journal Development.

Source: University of Edinburgh