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Published January 18, 2011, 01:13 PM

First step at breeding bird-flu resistant chickens

WASHINGTON — Scientists have genetically engineered chickens that cannot spread bird flu to their neighbors.

WASHINGTON — Scientists have genetically engineered chickens that cannot spread bird flu to their neighbors.

The experiment is a first step in exploring new ways to thwart a type of influenza that experts fear might one day spark a pandemic. It would require much additional research to see whether the resulting chickens and their eggs would be safe to eat.

A team led by the University of Cambridge bred chickens with a piece of DNA that produces what researchers called a decoy molecule, which tricks and diverts an enzyme key to the flu virus’ reproduction.

Then the team infected those chickens with bird flu and put them in cages with uninfected chickens. The infected birds still died, but they did not spread bird flu to the other chickens.

The research was published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

It is not an approach for wild birds that carry bird flu, but the researchers argue that breeding flu-resistant chickens could be valuable in warding off large die-offs of commercial flocks and may provide more protection against evolving strains than attempts to vaccinate poultry.

Bird flu, known formally as H5N1 flu, occasionally infects people who have close contact with infected poultry. It is highly deadly when it does because the infection is so different from typical human influenza strains. The concern is that it might eventually evolve to spread easily among people.

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