Reviving rare chicken breeds using genetically engineered sterility in surrogate host birds

Mark Woodcock, Almas Gheyas, Andrew Mason, Sunil Nandi, Lorna Taylor, Adrian Sherman, Jacqueline Smith, David Burt, Rachel Hawken, Mike McGrew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In macrolecithal species, cryopreservation of the oocyte and zygote is not possible due to the large size and quantity of lipid deposited within the egg. For birds, this signifies that cryopreserving and regenerating a species from frozen cellular material is currently technically unfeasible. Diploid primordial germ cells (PGCs) are a potential means to freeze down the entire genome and reconstitute an avian species from frozen material. Here, we examine the use of genetically engineered (GE) sterile female layer chicken as surrogate hosts for the transplantation of cryopreserved avian PGCs from rare heritage breeds of chicken. We first amplified PGC numbers in culture before cryopreservation and subsequent transplantation into host GE embryos. We found that all hatched offspring from the chimera GE hens were derived from the donor rare heritage breed broiler PGCs and using cryopreserved semen, we were able to produce pure offspring. Measurement of the mutation rate of PGCs in culture revealed 2.7 x 10-10 de novo SNVs were generated per cell division which is comparable to other stem cell lineages. We also found that endogenous Avian Leukosis Virus (ALV) retroviral insertions were not mobilised during in vitro propagation. Taken together, these results show that mutation rates are no higher than normal stem cells, essential if we are to conserve avian breeds. Thus, GE sterile avian surrogate hosts provide a viable platform to conserve and regenerate avian species using cryopreserved PGCs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20930-20937
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number42
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • conservation
  • biodiversity
  • primordial germ cell
  • poultry
  • genome editing


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