Avian influenza has devastating consequences for poultry farms. In an attempt to address this issue, scientists have endeavored to genetically manipulate chickens to make them resistant to the disease. This experiment has yielded promising results but also raises ethical questions.
Since 2021, avian influenza has been decimating poultry farms worldwide, leading to the culling of millions of domestic and wild birds and substantial economic losses. While there has been no documented transmission to humans so far, the increased frequency of transmission of these viruses to various mammalian species raises the risk of the emergence of a new influenza virus better suited to humans and capable of human-to-human transmission.
Researchers have therefore embarked on genomic editing of chickens, distinct from genetic modification. Genomic editing involves using “molecular scissors” to cut a gene and then correcting, repairing, or deactivating it to introduce characteristics such as resistance to a specific disease, increased productivity, and features that enhance animal well-being.
Extremely Promising Results
Now, back to our chickens. Researchers edited a gene to target the ANP32A protein. These genetically modified chickens matured without any noticeable negative effects on their health and well-being. In fact, they were even healthier than normal chickens! To test their resistance, they were initially exposed to a low dose of the avian influenza virus. The result: 9 out of 10 chickens showed total resistance, and no transmission occurred within the group.
Our super-resistant chickens were also exposed to a synthetic high dose of the virus, 1,000 times stronger than the initial one. This time, 5 out of the 10 genetically modified chickens were infected. While the results of their study, published in Nature Communications, are encouraging, they raise an ethical question: should we continue industrial farming and maintain our current meat consumption? Or should we, on the contrary, reduce it and promote a more virtuous approach to our relationship with food, despite the progress of biotechnology?