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British scientists say they have developed a way to genetically modify chickens so they can't spread "bird flu."

There are many different subtypes of avian flu that primarily afflict birds in the wild and occasionally they have infected domestic poultry flocks. The real concern is that one of these viruses will get into a poultry flock and then mutate into a highly pathogenic strain that can infect humans - starting a major influenza pandemic.

In Friday's edition of the journal Science, researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh report they have created chickens with an extra gene which produces a molecule that interferes with the normal reproductive process of the virus.

So transgenic chickens can still be infected with the avian flu, but the virus can't replicate inside them. That means a sick chicken won't spread the virus to its cage-mates.

One of the researchers, Laurence Tiley of the University of Cambridge, noted that the current flock of experimental chickens won't be turned into food. A lot more work must be done to refine the genetic alternation process.

Indeed, it could be some time before a pot of chicken soup contains transgenic fowl. Government regulators would have to deem the chicken safe for human consumption - and consumers would have to be willing to eat it.

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