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Glow-in-the-Dark Chickens May End Avian Flu Outbreaks Around the World

Researchers have injected fertile chicken eggs with a protein—that makes the resulting baby chicks glow bright green—in hopes of making them less susceptible to avian flu.

by Javier Cabral
Sep 9 2015, 9:45pm

Are you still tripping over the news about GM salmon or fish gene-fortified tomatoes? Please—that's so 2014. The hot new jam is genetically modified glow-in-the-dark chicken.

Researchers at the Roslin Institute at The University of Edinburgh have injected fertile chicken eggs with a protein that makes the resulting baby chicks' beaks and feet literally glow a bright green when placed under an ultraviolet light, all in an effort to lower the scarily growing rate of avian flu outbreaks in chicken farms around the world.

Despite our nation's love of fried chicken, avian flu poses a serious threat to the poultry industry and has the potential to devastate chicken populations, though it's not transmissible to humans. This year alone, more than 50 million birds in the US have been killed by the flu itself or in order to stop the spread of the disease.

READ: We Need to Re-Evaluate Our Stigma Towards Genetically Modified Meat

In the US alone, outbreaks of bird flu were reported in 21 states since December 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That's a whole lot of dead chickens that could have potentially fed Earth's quickly growing population—and that figure doesn't even include the massive egg shortage that has recently befallen the US due to avian flu. Thus, this intervention on natural selection right out of Dr. Seuss's masterpiece.

But how are glow-in-the-dark-chickens that look like they could be gimmicky novelty gifts from Spencer's going to help against avian flu outbreaks, exactly? Researchers injected a "decoy gene" designed to be avian flu-resistant into the yolks of freshly laid eggs, along with the aforementioned fluorescent protein that makes them glow.

Reuters reports, "When the modified birds come into contact with the flu, their genetic code is designed to trick the virus into copying the decoy and to inhibit the virus' ability to reproduce itself."

And when the Toxic Avenger-like baby chicks are born alongside their unaffected, non-engineered brother and sister chicks, the researchers can easily identify the ones containing the decoy gene because they glow neon green.

As Reuters notes, however, the birds would not be bred to glow if they are commercialized.

So far, one experiment has shown that the genetically modified chickens were more resistant to the disease compared to regular chickens (though they did eventually get sick). There was one glimmer of hope, however: Researchers found out that the engineered chickens did not spread the diseases even when sick. And based on the data available, a fully avian flu-resistant chicken may be possible in the near future.

However, to the dismay of any of our readers out there that were already thinking of serving this chicken for your next Halloween party, these developments don't necessarily mean that we will be able to eat bright green-fleshed drumsticks anytime soon.

Better stick to this Paleo "Green Chicken" recipe instead.