Genetically Engineered Chickens Can Lay Eggs with Cancer-Fighting Proteins

Sunday, 15 October 2017 - 4:48PM
Genetic Engineering
Weird Science
Sunday, 15 October 2017 - 4:48PM
Genetically Engineered Chickens Can Lay Eggs with Cancer-Fighting Proteins
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Prescription drugs are usually tasteless at best or disgusting at worst, so the idea of eating food with the medication already baked in might be appealing. Or even better - what if a chicken could just lay an egg containing a dose of your prescription, to go in a doctor-approved omelet? 

It makes for one of the weirder headlines you've read today, but it's the result of a successful first experiment: researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan have genetically engineered chickens which can lay eggs containing an protein called interferon beta

The process involves using genome editing technology to introduce genes (which can produce the required protein) into cells that serve as precursors for chicken sperm. The cells fertilize eggs, male chicks are born, the birds and the bees, etc. and eventually the males are crossbred with female chickens to produce offspring which inherited the protein-producing genes. 

And starting this past July, the researchers have began finding hens who've successfully inherited these genes, with three chickens currently laying the modified eggs once every other day or so. Once they have a stable coop going, they're hoping to start producing interferon beta for much cheaper than normal. Speaking to The Japan News, Prof. Hironobu Hojo at Osaka University explained where he thinks the experiment could lead:

Opening quote
"This is a result that we hope leads to the development of cheap drugs. In the future, it will be necessary to closely examine the characteristics of the agents contained in the eggs and determine their safety as pharmaceutical products."
Closing quote


Currently, interferon beta goes under brand names like Avonex and is primarily used to treat multiple sclerosis. Recent studies have begun to link the pharmaceutical agent to a future in cancer therapy, and the researchers believe it can specifically be a useful tool in dealing with both skin cancer and hepatitis

Beyond simply lowering drug prices, which would be useful in itself, this sort of genetic engineering has a host of other directions it could go in, from the use of CRISPR to sterilize malaria-spreading mosquitos to attempts at growing dinosaur legs on a chicken.

We're not quite there yet in a lot of these pursuits, but the idea of paying less for drugs - thanks to chickens - is just one of many things we might be looking at soon.
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