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Mexican researchers have genetically modified maize to create an edible vaccine against Newcastle disease, a major killer of poultry in developing countries.

The scientists, who published their findings online in Transgenic Research on 12 August, hope their approach can help small-scale poultry farmers protect their flocks.

Vaccines against the disease that can be given to poultry on food already exist, but are not usually available in the small quantities required by single families or villages.

Octavio Guerrero-Andrade of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) in Guanajuato and his colleagues inserted a gene from the Newcastle disease virus into maize DNA.

Chickens that ate the genetically modified (GM) maize produced antibodies against the virus. The maize provided a level of protection against infection comparable to that of commercial vaccines.

"The disease is important and a big killer," says Frands Dolberg of the Network for Smallholder Poultry Development, which works with partners in developing countries to promote poultry farming as a way of improving livelihoods.

"There is a big problem in delivering the vaccine to the many millions of poor poultry keepers around the world, and the GM maize could be a possibility," he told SciDev.Net.

Dolberg says that its success would depend on how accessible the GM maize was to poultry farmers.

But he points out that the poor, the landless and women — the main groups that keep poultry on a small scale in the South — generally struggle to access new technologies.

Reference: Transgenic Research    doi: 10.1007/s11248-006-0017-0

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