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CRISPR gene editing could help stop a common poultry virus in its tracks

Researchers at the Czech Academy of Sciences may have successfully used CRISPR gene editing to create chickens that are resistant to avian leukosis virus (ALV), a common but deadly affliction that affects poultry with symptoms ranging from emaciation and dehydration to depressed behavior. This latest advance could potentially be a game changer when it comes to chicken welfare, with clear implications for meat and egg production around the world.

The ALV-J subgroup virus binds to a protein called chicken NHE-1 (chNHE-1). Replication of this virus depends on a functional chNHE-1 cellular receptor. In previous work, the researchers showed that it is possible to prevent ALV from infecting chicken cells by deleting three letters from the chNHE-1 gene. But in their newer work, they have created a young rooster with sperm that has the exact chNHE-1 gene deletion. Its offspring was a flock of white leghorn chickens with the deletion in both copies of the gene. “It’s quite simple to do,” Jiri Hejnar, the lead researcher on the project, told New Scientist.

“Deletion of W38 did not manifest any visible side effect,” the researchers note in an abstract for a recent paper, published in PNAS, that describes the work. “Our data clearly demonstrate the antiviral resistance conferred by precise CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing in the chicken. Furthermore, our highly efficient CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing in primordial germ cells represents a substantial addition to genotechnology in the chicken, an important food source and research model.”

A company called Biopharm is reportedly in talks with poultry producers in Vietnam. They could introduce this genetic tweak into their commercial breeds. The researchers next plan to tackle other bird-related viruses, which could include ones that are potentially deadly to humans.

As impressive as this is, it isn’t the only use of CRISPR gene editing we’ve covered with the potential to cure disease. Other researchers have shown that it is possible to use gene editing to disable the defective gene that causes ALS in mice. Recently, researchers from the University of California — San Diego School of Medicine also suggested that it may be possible to use a new genetic-sequencing approach to create a “kill switch” to clear out dormant HIV reservoirs inside cells.

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