A CTLGH researcher has been successful in securing over £500,000 from the National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).
The project will support the development of a technique that will not only help protect the diverse and unique genetics of indigenous breeds of poultry in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), but also limit the amount of chickens required for research.
Dr Mike McGrew and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute intend to freeze chicken reproductive cells and then transplant the material into the eggs from sterile surrogate chickens. The hatched offspring then grow into chickens that go on to lay eggs of the transferred breed.
The Foreign Commonwealth Development Office, through CTLGH, funded the original research at the Roslin Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) that lead to the original freeze-drying technique being developed. The NC3R grant will allow researchers to assess how best to freeze reproductive cells, by studying three breeds of chickens used in research, at the Roslin Institute’s National Avian Research Facility.
If successful, the team at Roslin will demonstrate that a single surrogate parent can lay eggs that come from many individual donor birds and will negate the need for scientists to maintain multiple breeding populations of different breeds of chicken to support their research.
The adult surrogate birds will have only their reproductive cells changed to the genetics of the transferred cells, and therefore will be largely unaffected, with the exception that their offspring will be a different breed of chicken.
As well as reducing the number of chickens bred to support research, this technology has huge potential for researchers looking to improve the productivity of poultry in LMICs. African chickens have a huge genetic diversity that is yet to be fully collected and understood. Some populations of birds have shown resistance to disease threats whilst others seem more able to cope with environmental stresses like higher temperatures.
Researchers are hopeful that by studying the genetics of these birds, they can identify the genes that code for these beneficial traits or characteristics and the information used to develop healthier and more resilient poultry populations in the future.
Dr Mike McGrew, who co-leads CTLGH’s Reproductive Technologies research programme, is excited about the possibilities of this research.
He commented: “Discovering a way to easily freeze avian reproductive cells and subsequently bring back a genetically diverse flock will help the preservation of endangered breeds of poultry, increase food security from disease outbreaks and reduce the numbers of animals used in research.”