Naked Chickens

While I was preparing for a lesson on biotechnology in the chicken industry next week, I was surprised that there isn’t a lot about genetically modifying chickens.  Selective Breeding is the oldest method of obtaining animals with desirable traits, yet it seems to remain extremely popular.  Transgenics, at least now, do not seem to be used as much. 

Though I was disappointed by the lack of results on poultry biotechnology, I came across an interesting article.  Apparently, over ten years ago featherless chickens were bred with Broiler chickens to produce featherless Broiler chickens.  Why in the world would this be a good idea?  Feathers on a chicken are the equivalent to a human wearing a fur coat.  In extreme heat, the chickens naturally suffer from the weather.  Broiler chickens especially are bred to be larger and produce more body heat. Chickens without feathers then will have lower and healthier body temperatures. 

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Featherless chicken. Looks like something out of a horror movie!

Above is what a featherless chicken looks like.  On one hand, this picture is pretty cool because you can definitely see how chickens evolved from dinosaurs.  On the other hand, this looks like a walking chicken carcass. 

Naturally, there is much debate on this topic.  Those who support breeding these chickens claim this is economically and environmentally advantageous.  Others who are opposed say that featherless chickens suffer from parasites, sunburn, attracting mates, and are less suited to adapt to changing weather conditions. 

 

My opinion: the featherless chickens are another example of how humans treat animals in the food industry like commodities and not living, breathing beings.  It’s a further attempt to increase meat production without  thinking about the ethical issues it raises.

 

What are your thoughts on bald chickens: Yay or Nay?

Disease of the Day: Cystic Fibrosis

Imagine having a persistent cough that never seems to go away, along with frequent lung infections.  This is something over 70,000 people worldwide live with: cystic fibrosis (CF); an inherited, chronic disease.

I first stumbled upon CF in college and found it to be a fascinating disease since many people suffer from it and there is currently no known cure.  One of my lab rotations in grad school was focused on cystic fibrosis.  For those of you not familiar with CF, it is caused by a mutation in a gene called Cystic Fibrosis Trans-membrane Receptor.  This protein is important in regulating the composition of sweat, digestive fluids, and mucus.  It basically acts as a gate for sodium and chloride on the epithelial membrane.  CFTR is found in the lungs, pancreas, liver, and intestine.  You can imagine then, what might happen when this gene is mutated.  Mucus builds up in the lungs, causing infection and difficulty breathing.

If this disease is caused by one little mutation, why don’t more people have CF?  That’s because the disease is recessive, meaning that both your parents have to have a mutant CFTR in order for you to inherit it.

What exactly is this mutation?  CF can be caused by many mutations, but the most common is called delta F508.  Basically, three nucleotides are deleted in the CFTR gene.  Think of the gene like a tower of legos.  At a certain point, remove three legos in a row.  It may not seem like a big difference, but it’s enough to cause CF.  With this small deletion, the protein can’t fold properly.  When our body makes proteins, it goes through a quality control check to make sure each protein is formed correctly.  If a protein isn’t folded just right, it gets destroyed.  So: deletion leads to misfolding which leads to protein destruction, and mucus buildup.  Isn’t it crazy how something one such a microscopic level can be so crucial?

I find CF to be  fascinating disease.  It’s also an interesting disease to follow in the science world because there is extensive research being done to understand the pathology of CF.  Although people with CF live much longer today than they did 50 years ago, finding a cure for CF is still a desirable goal for many researchers.

Looking through Pub Med today, I found an interesting article that contributes to the known pathology of CF.  It’s called: Phagocytic and signaling innate immune receptors: Are they dysregulated in cystic fibrosis?  This article focuses on the fact that although it is well known that patients with  CF develop lung infection, there isn’t much known about the early stages of these infections developing.  Specifically, they focus on Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that can infect humans.  They found that some of the signaling receptors (things that turn on/turn off cell activity) for Pseudomonas aeruginosa are dysregulated in CF.  In conclusion, CF causes changes in cell activity, allowing for pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa to infect the body.

It would be interesting to see where they take this study from here.  Maybe targeting these signaling receptors via gene therapy will help alleviate some of the maladies associated with CF.

Although this is an interesting article that aims to understand CF infections, it doesn’t seem to move research forward towards the root of the problem: CF itself and how to prevent the disease from happening in the first place.

a-look-inside-cystic-fibrosis
A diagram of what CF looks like

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cystic_fibrosis

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24508137

Welcome to my science blog!

Hello everyone out there!

I’d like to extend to you a warm welcome to my science blog.  It is here that I will work on developing my skills as a science writer by finding interesting science news and writing about it.

A little background about myself (if you haven’t read any of my other blogs):

I graduated with a degree in Biology and went to graduate school for a year.  I thought I wanted to obtain a PhD in genetics, but decided that graduate school in the research field wasn’t for me.  Currently, I am doing AmeriCorps in Austin, TX.  In my free time, I am looking at grad schools to apply to for a Masters Degree in Science Writing.

I’ve loved writing  since I could pick up a pencil.  I’ve had a passion for science since high school.  This blog is the start of me marrying these two great passions of mine.

I have no idea where this blog is going to go, but I’m excited to find out.  Hopefully I can get some people commenting and start some interesting science conversations.