Hens that cannot produce their own chicks have successfully acted as surrogates for rare chicken breeds.
The advance—using gene-editing techniques—could help to boost breeding of endangered birds and improve production of commercial hens, researchers say.
Scientists injected specialized stem cells
—called primordial germ cells—from another chicken breed into the eggs from the surrogate chickens.
The adult hens then produced eggs containing all of the genetic information
from the other chicken breed.
A team led by the University's Roslin Institute used a genetic tool they had previously developed called TALEN to delete a section of chicken DNA.
The researchers targeted part of a gene called DDX4, which is crucial for bird fertility. Hens with the genetic modification
were unable to produce eggs but were otherwise healthy, the team found.
DDX4 plays an essential role in the generation of primordial germ cells, which gives rise to eggs. The surrogate chickens were the first gene-edited birds to be produced in Europe.
Experts say the cells could potentially be used to help breed birds of other closely related species, as long as a supply of primordial germ cells is available from a donor bird.
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