Scientists have developed genetically modified chickens that don't transmit bird flu to other chickens.
This genetic modification has the potential to stop bird flu outbreaks spreading within poultry flocks. This would not only protect the health of domestic poultry but could also reduce the risk of bird flu epidemics leading to new flu virus epidemics in the human population.
Dr Laurence Tiley, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Virology from the University of Cambridge, Department of Veterinary Medicine, said: "Chickens are potential bridging hosts that can enable new strains of flu to be transmitted to humans. Preventing virus transmission in chickens should reduce the economic impact of the disease and reduce the risk posed to people exposed to the infected birds.
"The genetic modification we describe is a significant first step along the path to developing chickens that are completely resistant to avian flu. These particular birds are only intended for research purposes, not for consumption," Tiley added.
To produce these chickens, the Cambridge and Edinburgh scientists introduced a new gene that manufactures a small "decoy" molecule that mimics an important control element of the bird flu virus. The replication machinery of the virus is tricked into recognising the decoy molecule instead of the viral genome and this interferes with the replication cycle of the virus.
When the transgenic chickens were infected with avian flu, they became sick but did not transmit the infection on to other chickens kept in the same pen with them. This was the case even if the other chickens were normal (non-transgenic) birds.
The study has been published in the journal Science.