(DTN)--A chicken genetically engineered to produce a foreign protein in the eggs provides the first real evidence that it is feasible to use transgenic chickens to mass produce drugs, a group of U.S. researchers said on Friday, March 29.

The researchers, led by Alex Harvey from AviGenics, a company based in Georgia, inserted a bacterial gene encoding an enzyme into White Leghorn chicken embryos, which after maturing laid eggs containing the enzyme, reported Xinhua.

"These results support the potential of the hen as a bioreactor for the production of commercially valuable, biologically active proteins in egg white," Harvey and colleagues wrote in the April issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Leghorn is a relatively small, white-colored breed of chicken which lays a good number of chalk white eggs and currently dominates the American egg-producing class.

Based on the results with the test protein, the researchers predicted that a single White Leghorn hen that produces up to 330 eggs per year could produce 17 milligrams or more of a protein drug, enough for variable doses depending on the therapeutic.

Unlike other transgenic animals that take years to produce foreign proteins in milk, chickens can start laying transgenic eggs about 21 weeks after hatching.

What's more, foreign proteins produced by transgenic chickens should be much easier to harvest or purify, the researchers said.

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