Scientists in the UK have genetically modified chickens to that can lay eggs capable of producing proteins used in cancer drugs. The birds were created by the Roslin Institute, which also created the lamb Dolly ten years ago.It is not the first time scientists attempted to use animals, or animal products, as “drug factories”. In fact, the label “drug factory” carries a pretty negative tone without reason. The animals themselves are not harmed by this procedure, and do not physically “notice” they are producing these life saving proteins in their egg whites. This method does give the pharmaceutical industry a much cheaper and easier method of creating compounds necessary for drugs, and is considered a major breakthrough.

There is still a long way to go: the project took fifteen years to come this far, and it will be another ten years until a drug is actually developed from these proteins. This is however not an unreasonable amount of time in drug-development terms.

GMO animals and animal products have been receiving criticism since the moment the concept hit the media. However, proteins like insulin are already produced in genetically modified bacteria for years. Somehow people do not seem to care equally about GMO bacteria as they do about other organisms, or are just less aware. Certain proteins are too complex to be produced in bacteria though, are need more complex systems to produce them. In this case chicken eggs are a perfect medium to produce complex proteins in.

Roslin Institute has engineered eggs that produce the antibody miR24, which can potentially be used to treat malignant melanoma.

Christine Buske is a freelance writer specializing in Health and Science. She has an H.B.Sc in Biotechnology & Economics and is editor in chief of Dating

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