Genetically-modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping scientists set up a “frozen aviary” to conserve rare birds.
The aviary acts like a seed bank for poultry, storing primordial stem cells that produce eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring.
The Edinburgh University team have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. The cells are held in a freezer at -150C and will be viable for decades. The researchers at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute want to preserve rare poultry breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality.
The first step was to create the GM hens capable of laying eggs from multiple different rare breeds, which include the colourfully-named “rumpless game”, “Scots dumpy”, “Sicilian buttercup”, and “Old English pheasant fowl”.