SCOTS scientists will create genetically modified chickens that can lay eggs which hatch into ducks, songbirds, hawks or eagles.
It is hoped the chickens could be used to repopulate endangered species of bird which are threatened in the wild.
The work is being carried out at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute, which was behind Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned
The scientists have already used the technique to create a chicken fathered by a duck, and a houbara, a large bustard, fathered by a
Even extinct species of birds could be recreated with the research.
The work was originally designed for agricultural purposes where common chicken species would produce eggs which would hatch into more valuable types of hen.
But Mike McGrew, who is overseeing the project, realised it could be used to create designer chickens which could produce any bird species.
He said: “We could use this system to propagate endangered species or potentially to bring back an extinct one.”
The research focuses on primordial germ cells, which produce sperm and eggs and pass on DNA.
McGrew and his team found these cells can be extracted from embryonic birds of almost any species and injected into a chicken embryo’s reproductive organs.
When this chicken matures it can produce sperm for whatever species it was injected with.
This could include raptors, ducks or songbirds.
The Roslin Institute researchers have used normal chickens so far but now plan to use genetically modified birds designed to host the sperm of other species.
The chickens will be based at the National Avian Resreach Facility, being built near Edinburgh.
The Roslin Institute shot to worldwide fame after Dolly the sheep was created in 1996.
In 2009 Professor Ian Wilmut, the scientist behind the project to create the sheep, was given a knighthood by the Queen for the work.
The Institute was given a £10million funding boost from the Scottish Government earlier this year to support research into livestock.
Professor David Hume, director of the Roslin Institute said: “This investment complements the current development of the National Avian Research Facility at Easter Bush and will help to keep Scotland at the forefront of Livestock research internationally.”
Education Secretary Michael Russell added: “Scotland has great strength and expertise across many research fields and the Roslin
Institute is leading the way in the animal health sector.
“We want to build on existing excellence to develop our reputation in research and maximise the benefits for our economy.
“By investing in our research and development capacity, we will help sustain and improve Scotland’s livestock industry while leading
efforts to relieve poverty in developing countries.
“It will position Scotland at the forefront of animal science research across the globe.”