Photo/IllutrationA hen that can lay eggs containing human interferon beta (Provided by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Researchers have created hens that can lay eggs worth nearly 300 million yen ($2.73 million) each because they contain an expensive protein used as a therapeutic agent for cancer and hepatitis.

The “golden” eggs are a result of new genome editing technology, which produces a larger amount of the protein, human interferon beta, at low cost, the scientists said.

The new technique can save on costs because it uses the eggs of hens, an easy-to-breed species, instead of a huge dedicated facility needed for the conventional method based on colon bacilli or cultured cells, they said.

“The latest technology will enable hens to generate various useful proteins,” said Isao Oishi, a senior official at the Biomedical Research Institute of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

Oishi and his colleagues collected cells that would turn into sperm from rooster embryos. After the cells were cultured, the scientists inserted a gene into the cells to produce human interferon beta. The cells were then returned to the embryos of other roosters.

The hatched roosters were later made to mate with wild hens. The team discovered that female offspring of these couples could lay eggs with human interferon beta contained in the albumen surrounding the yolks.

The quantity of the protein in each egg ranged from 30 to 60 milligrams. Considering the market price of human interferon beta, the eggs are each worth an estimated 60 million yen to nearly 300 million yen.

The use of cells that will turn into sperm enabled the team to avoid the difficulty of manipulating fertilized eggs of fowl through genome editing.

An official of Cosmo Bio Co., a reagent maker working with the scientists, said the team’s technique will help slash production costs of the protein.

“If drugs are developed based on the new method, their prices would be half or one-third of those of conventional drugs,” the official said.

The effectiveness and safety of such drugs must be carefully examined before they can be marketed as medicine. Cosmo Bio for now is looking to use the hen-based protein to produce reagents.