Japanese scientists have created hens that can lay multi-million pound “golden eggs” containing an expensive protein used to treat serious diseases such as cancer and hepatitis.
The creation of the so-called “golden eggs” was masterminded by scientists at Japan’s Biomedical Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
The new technology involved scientists using new genome editing technology to create hens that can produce eggs containing high quantities of the protein human interferon beta at a low cost.
Scientists first collecting cells that would turn into sperm from cockerel embryos and inserting a gene to produce human interferon beta.
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The cells were then reportedly returned to the embryos of other cockerels, with the hatched cockerels later made to mate with wild hens.
Scientists found that their female offspring could subsequently lay eggs with high levels of human interferon beta – a natural anti-viral protein – found around the yolks.
The protein quantity in individual eggs ranged from around 30 to 60 milligrams, resulting in each egg reportedly being valued as worth between around £408,000 (60 million yen) and £2 million (300 million yen) a piece.
Human interferon beta is a natural anti-viral protein with a hefty price tag which is commonly used as a therapeutic agent for diseases such as cancer and hepatitis.
The scientists are currently collaborating with Cosmo Bio, a Japanese reagent maker, to explore the potential commercial production of the hen-based protein.
Cosmo Bio plans to sell the protein, produced by its own in-house hens, from early next year for research use, with a view to making it commercially available in the future following further tests.
“For Interferon-beta protein, we have about 20 hens in-house," Mika Kitahara of Cosmo Bio, told the Telegraph. "So far our hens produce the eggs constantly, just like normal hens.”
Highlighting the benefits of such a technique, she added: “These hens can produce eggs constantly, so we can obtain recombinant proteins in large amounts and with stability. In addition, this system doesn’t involve killing hens.”