If ever a father had reason to doubt the legitimacy of his parentage, it is this duck. Apparently a duck with genetically modified germ cells has successfully fathered a chicken, reports Time. Yes, you heard that right: a duck has spawned a chicken. And scientists have confirmed that he really is the father.
The bizarre experiment began as an attempt by researchers at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai to genetically modify chickens to produce more fertile hens. How it became an effort to make ducks capable of fathering chickens is unclear, but scientists hope the technique could be further developed for a more sensible purpose: allowing hens to lay eggs from other species. This could, in turn, become an invaluable tool for bird conservation.
At the very least, the research represents an eccentric new chapter for the science of genetic modification.
The procedure involves first injecting a chicken's germ cells into the reproductive organs of a male duck embryo. As the duck matures, its sex organs eventually produce chicken sperm — with chicken DNA — instead of duck sperm. Thus, in a manner of speaking, a duck can become the proud father of a chicken. The methodology would have to be modified if the hen was meant to produce an egg from another species, but the success of this method is an important step in that direction.
Perhaps someday chickens could be used to lay eggs for hawks, eagles or even a Dodo bird. That's the long view for researchers, to "use this system to propagate endangered species or potentially bring back an extinct one," according to Mike McGrew, a scientist at the Roslin Institute, in a recent TEDx talk. McGrew and his fellow researchers at Roslin are the ones responsible for Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to ever be cloned.
As unusual as this project sounds, it's not unprecedented. Another team of researchers with similar aims recently announced a successful attempt at inserting the preserved genetic material of an extinct gastric-brooding frog into the donor eggs of another species of living frog. The embryos from the extinct species had not yet developed into tadpoles, but the scientists expressed optimism that the gastric-brooding frog would soon be "hopping again."
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