Monday, June 12, 2006

Playing God: Some Chickens Genetically Engineered to Carry a Gene for New Trait: Offspring Carry the Same Trait: Positive or Negative for the Future?

Yes, genetic engineering is nothing new. And, this article is fully acting as a cheerleader for it. But it does touch on the important question of what will happen in the future? That is, will totally altering the genetic code that leads to such things as eggs carrying custom-made human monoclonal antibodies to fight cancer cause more harm than good? Is it really wise to trust a company to produce artificial entities – including antibodies – that will not in the long run harm humans?

These are questions not being asked by anyone. Strangely, their not even being asked by right wing Christians who should question the logic behind tinkering with what they see as god’s design – the genetic code. Certainly an issue to look into.

Altered chickens ruffling feathers

Company adds gene in quest for new medicines

June 11, 2006



SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The chickens in the lab at the Burlingame, Calif., biotech company look just like any other bird you might want to roast.

But they're far more precious than your average domestic chicken: They've been genetically engineered to carry a gene for a new trait. What's more, their offspring carry the same trait -- in poultry perpetuity.

These chickens, created by Origen Therapeutics and unveiled in last week's issue of the journal Nature, could build future flocks of birds that lay eggs with therapeutic contents -- feathered medicine factories that are cost-effective, clean and potentially lifesaving.

Transplanting genes from one species to another has become almost routine, as gene-altered animals have entered a commercial era.

What's different about these new birds is they carry inserted genes in their sperm or egg, so the alteration is passed on to future generations. Origen won't say how many of these birds they've created, citing proprietary concerns.

Last summer, Origen built chickens with human genes that lay eggs carrying custom-made human monoclonal antibodies to fight cancer. While important, this was a laborious bird-by-bird procedure.

"Once we introduce a genetic change, all the offspring and their offspring will carry that modification," said Robert Kay, chief executive of Origen Therapeutics.

For now, the new gene doesn't do much. It is simply a fluorescent green marker gene, which causes the birds to glow in the dark under ultraviolet light.

But it proves that the new technique works.

Mass-producing antibodies

The next step is to create birds with genes for a wide array of different monoclonal antibodies, which could then be tested as therapeutic tools. By lowering the cost of producing each antibody, many more can be tested.

Eggs with the desirable antibodies could roll off assembly lines by the billion.

The birds are White Leghorns, the sturdy variety found in supermarket freezers.

But the White Leghorns at Origen, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each, live pampered lives. Their room is climate-controlled, with filtered air. Access is highly restricted.

"It is very comfortable for the birds," said Kay.

To get the volume of monoclonal antibodies needed for commercialization, Origen seeks to build a flock of 5,000 to 10,000 birds.

Once a line of birds is well-established, breeding is relatively cheap, said Kay. He asserts that the cost of maintaining them will cost far less than other biotech production facilities -- an estimated $20 million for a facility of 10,000 birds.

"This work addresses a major biomedical issue -- how to produce antibody-based medicines in an easy, cost-effective way," according to a news release by Matthew E. Portnoy, of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partially funded the research. Origen collaborated with the University of California-Davis on the work.

Human traits may be at risk

Germ line modification, as the procedure is called, has been achieved in mice as well. But because they don't lay eggs, Origen says they have less commercial potential.

But such techniques are barred in humans in the United States, Britain and much of the rest of the world, because of fears that someone will attempt to re-engineer the collective inheritance of the entire species.

Critics fear that while germ line engineering could one day end deadly genetic diseases, it also could alter fundamental human characteristics such as personality and appearance.

The chicken research ruffles the feathers of animal-rights advocates, who object to the mass production of chickens in general. But Origen maintains that they're healthy and happy chickens.

"They look and act like any other chicken you might find," said Kay. "But they never get near a grocery store."

No comments:

Search for More Content

Custom Search
Bookmark and Share

Past Articles