CRISPR study transfers genes between poultry breeds

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh used the gene editing approach CRISPR to transfer beneficial traits – like climate-tolerant feathers or disease resistance – between chicken breeds.

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Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime.com
Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime.com

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh used the gene editing approach CRISPR to transfer beneficial traits – like climate-tolerant feathers or disease resistance – between chicken breeds.

The approach could be used to improve productivity and welfare in poultry operations and could safeguard the genes of rare chicken breeds.

“The poultry industry is really interested in selective breeding and identifying useful genetic variants that are in their population. What we've what we've done with this new technology is that we can use gene editing to easily investigate these genetic changes by putting them into any breed of chicken,” Dr. Mike McGrew of the Roslin Institute and Programme Leader at the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health (CTLGH).

How it works

The research team implanted the reproductive cells of donor birds that had been gene-edited into sterile male and female chicken eggs. After hatching and reaching sexual maturity, these birds mated together, producing chicks of the donor breed.

These chicks displayed the characteristics of the donor birds along with the trait created by the gene-edited technology, rather than their surrogate parents.

The researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of the technique by genetically modifying the signature white plumage of the White Leghorn breed into black and introducing curly feathers – typically thought to help West African breeds adapt to hot climates – into the British Light Sussex breed.

The approach, called Sire Dam Surrogate mating, could be used to ensure that a desired gene is passed down from one generation to another.

A high-tech way to develop a low tech solution

One of the biggest potential benefits of this new approach, McGrew says, is that it offers a high-tech way for the poultry industry to develop a low-tech solution, especially given the ethical issues surrounding gene editing.

“A lot of people are afraid of genome editing because we don’t know how it’s going to be regulated in the future,” he explained.

“But what we’re showing is that we can use genome editing to validate different traits and then they can use those same traits in their breeding program. If they can produce the same chicken through breeding, then there’s no reason to use genome editing. We’re basically offering them a research tool they can use.”

The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

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