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Preventing Disease in Animals

September 29th, 2014

Episode 408 of 607 episodes

Diseases devastate livestock around the world. In chickens for example the deadly strain of bird flu and the lesser known bacterial infection Campylobacter, not only harms the chickens but is also a real threat to human health. Melissa Hogenboom visits one of the world’s leading genetics institutions, the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in the UK and hears about new genetic techniques to combat diseases in our livestock. In chickens, professor Helen Sang uses a subtle form of genetic modification, called genome editing. Her team is trying to find the genetic components of natural resistance in a wide group of chicken breeds, which they can then insert into the genome of livestock fowl in the hope of breeding healthier, safer chickens. They are close to making disease resistant birds but they are aware that GM animals are still a long way from entering the market in Europe. Similar research is going on in cows for TB resistance, but here instead of genetically modifying they are cross-breeding which may take ten or more generations to complete. Melissa hears from Professor Liz Glass who studies the genetics of disease resistance in cattle. Her work has applications in the design of better vaccines for infectious diseases and understanding how disease spreads. Melissa also hears about a team creating a frozen bio-bank of bird stem cells - cryopreserving them so that they could one day resurrect entire breeds. This technique could provide hope against losing these valuable genes forever. Producer and presenter: Melissa Hogenboom (Photo: Chickens. BBC copyright)

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