Scientists setting up a rare poultry 'genetic ark'
Genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping scientists set up a "frozen aviary" to conserve rare and exotic birds.
Like a seed bank for poultry, the aviary will store primordial stem cells that give rise to eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring.
So far, the team from the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute has collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds.
Held in a freezer at minus 150C, the cells will remain viable for decades.
The researchers want to preserve rare chicken breeds, such as the rumpless game and Sicilian buttercup, that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality.
Lead scientist Dr Mike McGrew said: "These chickens are a first step in saving and protecting rare poultry breeds from loss in order to preserve future biodiversity of our poultry from both economic and climate stresses.
"We call it the frozen aviary because we want to freeze down these stem cells from a lot of different breeds of poultry, starting with chickens. Then other breeds like geese; quail also."
Richard Broad, from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, said: "You can save all kinds of breeds, put them in a freezer and there would be a genetic ark for us. If you had one in every country, it would be a wonderful thing."