Scotland announces the world's first genetically altered chicken eggs that can be used to produce drugs like those used to treat cancer.
Scientists of the Roslin Institute at Edinburgh, Scotland have claimed to create a flock of 500 chickens that will lay eggs that can be used to create life saving drugs.
These drugs could in effect cost just that of a fraction of what the National Health Service incurs, according to them.
For disbelievers, the technique, which is recorded in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, seems quite simple; transfer human genes to the DNA of the hen, the genetically altered chickens then produce complex proteins. These are then secreted into the egg whites and they can later be harvested to manufacture drugs.
The breed of hens used was ISA Brown and the DNA was transferred into the gene ovalbumin, which creates the egg-white protein albumin.
Roslin scientists were the first to boast of true -breeding hens; hens that passed on human genes transferred to them, generation after generation.
Says Dr Karen Jervis of Viragen Scotland, a biotech company working with Roslin; "This is potentially a very powerful new way to produce specialized drugs. We have bred five generations of chickens so far and they all keep producing high concentrations of pharmaceuticals."
Therapeutic proteins such as insulin have long been produced in bacteria; but there are some complex proteins that can only be made in the more sophisticated cells of larger organisms.
Scientists have successfully made a range of these molecules in the milk of genetically modified sheep, goats, cows and rabbits.
Chickens are preferred by scientists because of their short life span and the ability to produce eggs in large numbers and at higher frequencies.
Some of the birds have been engineered to lay eggs that contain miR24, a type of antibody with potential for treating malignant melanoma, or skin cancer. Others produce human interferon b-1a, which can be used to stop viruses replicating in cells.