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Gene editing tool could protect against avian influenza


ON DECEMBER 10, 2020

Outbreaks of the viral disease were recently reported in 15 European and two Asian countries.

A groundbreaking project plans to harness emerging gene editing technology to develop genetic resistance in chickens against avian influenza.

“We aim to use genome editing technologies to design poultry with genetically-innate characteristics of influenza-resistant traits,” said Yehuda Elram, CEO & Co-Founder of eggXYt. “The technique exploits the nature of known gene-silencing mechanisms in cells called RNA-interference (RNAi). Using genome editing tools we genetically redirect the RNAi mechanisms to specifically interfere with virus genes in infected birds. This way the virus will be impaired and unable to replicate in the bird.”

The true cost of avian influenza Avian influenza is one of the deadliest and most costly avian diseases. The 2015 U.S. outbreak led to the slaughter of 50 million birds, costing more than $3.2 billion. The disease is zoonotic – so workers are also at risk of getting sick when outbreaks occur.

“While there are preventative measures, such as vaccines, these are not sufficient in preventing outbreaks, and when outbreaks do unfortunately occur, the only way to prevent more spread is to ‘stamp out’ all exposed (and all potentially exposed) poultry, which comes with a hefty financial and ethical price,” Elram explained.

“Outbreaks are not only costly, but they are also becoming more frequent, occurring with increased frequency since the disease’s identification.”

Fifteen European countries, including France, Poland, Germany and the United Kingdom, and at least two Asian countries have reported highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks this winter.

An innovative approach to disease resistance The gene editing approach makes precise, specific changes to nucleotides located within non-coding genomic locations on an organism’s DNA. These changes redirect genetic activity, in this case targeting the genes of known pathogens, like avian influenza.

“Genome editing technologies enable scientists to make very specific and precise changes to the DNA, leading to changes in physical traits. These technologies act like scissors, which allow us to cut the DNA at a very specific spot. Thereafter, scientists can very precisely add, remove or replace the DNA at the cutting site,” Elram said.

The technology is already in use to protect tropical crops against invasive diseases. Like what you just read? Sign up now for free to receive the Poultry Future Newsletter.

Elizabeth Doughman is the Managing Editor of Poultry Future. To contact Doughman, email [email protected].

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