Super Chickens

Beating bird flu


Beating bird flu is tricky. Since the disease strains mutate unpredictably every year, developing annual vaccines can be a hit-or-miss process. And since the birds live in closely packed environments, transmission can be swift and deadly to large populations. 

A study reported in the January 14 edition of Science suggests a solution. A team of researchers including Laurence Tiley at the University of Cambridge has found a way to stop bird flu from spreading by altering chickens' RNA. (The technique does not prevent infected birds from dying.) Although "the mechanism underlying this effect is not known," the researchers say, the success of these genetic tweaks is an encouraging first step in controlling bird flu, which in a bad year can take hundreds of human lives and cull the bird population by millions.