Researchers at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute have genetically engineered chickens to produce human proteins in their eggs.
They hope the project will one day lead to life-saving medicines that are much cheaper to manufacture.
The team changed the genomes of the chickens so that their eggs contained large amounts of high quality proteins.
Only three eggs, according to the scientists, contain a clinically significant dose.
Initially, the proteins are used in research, but laboratory tests have already shown that they work at least as well as equivalent drugs.
Protein-based therapies such as the cancer treatments Herceptin and Avastin can be effective where traditional medicines fail but are very expensive.
The new research ̵
We meet tomorrow's medical professionals in a secure facility at the institute.
Dozens of transgenic chickens are kept in rows of large stables.
Your job is straightforward: put in 300 eggs a year.
There are some taps here as well, a surprise for a Townie like me.
Its purpose is twofold. Chickens do not lie, unless there is a rooster nearby.
In addition, the males must produce more transgenic chickens.
These creatures are not clones. New generations of protein producers are produced in a conventional, biological way.
Professor Helen Sang of the Institute says it's a cost-effective way to boost production:
"If you want more eggs, you just need more birds."
"That's why we have a rooster in this pen – and he can produce a lot of children in a short amount of time.
" So we can produce a lot of chickens in a short time, if we want to build a mass supply of the drug. "
In a laboratory away from the cacophony of the chicken coop, Dr. Lissa Herron of Roslin Technologies manufactures a tray of brown eggs that would grace any breakfast table.
But these will never get into the food chain. "It's pretty old-fashioned at first," she says.
"We only crack the egg, and over the years, I have become quite adept at cracking eggs."
The golden egg yolk is no longer needed.
It is the protein that contains the treasure: large amounts of medically important proteins.
"These proteins are really very expensive to make," she says, "because they can not be easily synthesized in a chemistry lab.
" They need a living system because proteins are very large molecules They are very complex and they require the entire machinery of a cell to make and properly fold. "
So far, chickens have been genetically engineered to produce two types of proteins.
One is Macrophage CSF. It is developed as a therapy that stimulates damaged tissue to repair itself.
It is made in versions for humans and pigs.
The other is called Interferon Alfa-2A.
"This is a human protein that is native to our body – it is expressed as part of our immune system," Dr. Herron.
"It has antiviral properties and has also been found to have some anti-cancer properties.
" It is a protein that is used in the clinic today or has long been used to treat hepatitis cancers. "
As with all research on promising treatments, there is a caveat, and it can take decades of research and testing to make a breakthrough into medicine.
However, treatments for rare, so-called orphan cancer Diseases can be tracked quickly – and veterinary medicines tend to hit the market even faster.
By lowering the cost of protein therapies, the new technology could create affordable treatments for livestock and domestic animals, opening up an animal A new market for the veterinary sector.
Dr. Herron knows how effective protein therapies can be: She received an existing drug for inflammatory bowel disease.
"It was a pretty unbelievable thing," she says Friday, when I'm probably going to remove my entire colon until Monday home.
"It's pretty impressive d, what we can do with some of these medications.
"So hopefully we can get them out there and treat some of these really difficult diseases."
The team is confident that it can expand the range of proteins chickens can lay.
In the technique of introducing the new genes into chick DNA, a lentivirus was used to provide the payload.
It has long been established but involves trial and error before genes find their desired target.
The newer CRISPR / Cas method should allow much more precise editing.
The researchers were strategically funded by the Research Council Biotechnology and Biosciences and published their findings in the journal BMC Biotechnology.
The chickens themselves are unaffected by the presence of human proteins in their systems.
They live in conditions superior to those of battery hens and lay eggs as usual.
Due to EU regulations against GM organisms in the food chain, neither eggs nor eggs end up on the plate.
However, they could be at the forefront of making better and cheaper medicines.
Cheaper because they literally work for chicken feed.