Dr. [Alewo Idoko-Akoh], a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, is working on a project that uses genome editing tools to develop bird flu resistant chicken. In an exclusive interview… the young scientist talks about the project.
Explain the science behind this technology. How does one deploy genome editing tools to develop birds that are resistant to bird flu?
The first thing is to understand which particular gene is important for the bird flu virus. We then identify a variant of that gene, which is still functional in the cell and works normally, but which the virus cannot use. Usually, there are individual birds around the world that naturally possess such disease resistance gene variants. We then use gene editing technology to breed chickens that have that particular variant of gene.
This project aims to find a global solution for preventing avian influenza in chickens because bird flu is not a disease restricted by any geographical boundaries; it is a global problem associated with poor poultry welfare, human health concerns and also economic losses. If we develop flu-resistant chickens, then they are the kind of chickens that should preferably be propagated everywhere to stop the spread of the virus.