Scientists have successfully gene-edited chicken cells to prevent them spreading avian influenza.

It marks another step closer to birds bred resistant to the virus.

Researchers targeted a specific molecule inside chicken cells called ANP32A, which the influenza virus takes over to help replicate itself.

After removing the section of DNA responsible for producing ANP32A, the virus was no longer able to grow inside cells with the genetic change.

The research was conducted last year and published recently in the journal eLife.

It was funded by the UK Government’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, with additional support from Cobb Vantress.

Researchers at the Roslin Institute previously worked with experts from Cambridge University to produce chickens that did not transmit bird flu to other chickens following infection, using genetic modification techniques.

The new approach differs because it does not involve introducing new genetic material into the bird’s DNA.

The Roslin Institute’s Dr Mike McGrew said: “This is an important advance that suggests we may be able to use gene-editing techniques to produce chickens that are resistant to bird flu.

“We haven’t produced any birds yet and we need to check if the DNA change has any other effects on the bird cells before we can take this next step.”

“We have long known that chickens are a reservoir for flu viruses that might spark the next pandemic,” added Wendy Barclay, chair in influenza virology at Imperial College London.

“In this research, we have identified the smallest possible genetic change we can make to chickens that can help to stop the virus taking hold.

“This has the potential to stop the next flu pandemic at its source.”