Transgenic Chicken

SEED Magazine has an interesting article on the advances in avian transgenics….

I’ve been out of the loop for the past 3 or so years, but I took an Avian Biotechnology graduate class with Jim Petitte (mentioned in the article) a few years back, in which we did every step of the method separately, not really trying to make a transgenic chicken over a semester, but trying to figure out how to make each step work for us. The year I took it was the first time his class actually managed to produce a chimaera. Jim was so excited he was jumping up and down and hitting the ceiling – and he is a not a tall man.
A year or so later, he managed to actually produce a transgenic chicken in his lab. The article linked above highlights a new approach to one of the steps which should make the process a little less daunting – and it IS daunting! Avian transgenesis is so much more difficult than in mammals or Xenopus.
One thing that always strikes me when I read such press releases or articles about avian transgenesis is the heavy emphasis on the practical applications. Insulin in chicken eggs. Vitamins in chicken meat. Whatever. I guess that kind of talk is neccessary for getting millions in grant money.
But I always look at transgenesis as primarily a research tool. If I ever manage to finish the darned Dissertation and get my behind back in the lab, I’d love to figure out how to make a transgenic bird. While chickens are used in this research for commercial reasons (big eggs of a kind that people like to eat and that can be filled with a lot of protein), there is no reason why it could not be done (perhaps even easier and quicker) in Japanese quail – the mouse of the avian labs.
And once you can make a transgenic bird, you can also make a knock-out (insert anti-sense RNA or just delete the gene of choice, or use some tricks to make an inducible knockout). Then, you can spend the rest of your career playing with knockouts if you want, transplanting brain-regions between knock-outs and wild-types, or whatever helps you answer the questions you are interested in.
As for eggs that taste like chocolate, made just in time for Easter, or the chicken meat that tastes just like chicken, it’s nice and useful, but it does not excite me. I guess if I was doing this, I would be pushing the applied line myself, especially if it pays the lab’s bills….

One response to “Transgenic Chicken

  1. melinda wenner

    Indeed, all too often it seems that the research potential of a new molecular technique is overshadowed by its oh-so-exciting clinical applications. Think of RNAi — we’re more likely to hear about it as a future cure for cancer than as a phenomenon that helps us understand gene function and regulation today.