What do chickens have to do with Halloween? Well, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the likelihood of contracting a harmful bacterium, such as salmonella, increases when dressing a chicken in a Halloween costume. This makes sense because any contact with a live animal, especially a bird, presents the chance for transmission of viruses from animal to human.
However, this claim caused quite the stir yesterday when news outlets incorrectly reported on the CDC’s advisory, with many interpreting the news reports as a guidance to not dress chickens in costume at all. (Que the collective screams from Halloween-loving chicken owners across the U.S.)
The CDC later clarified the news reports, saying that they are not warning people against dressing up chickens in Halloween costumes, they just want you to take precautionary measures whenever handling fowl – whether to dress it in a miniature-sized sheriff costume or not.
But, this is a biotech blog, you say. Where does biotechnology come into play in all of this? Well, the CDC’s warning about handling chickens stems from the fact that many birds do carry viruses and bacterium that can put human health at risk. Most notably, birds like chickens can carry the bird flu, otherwise known as H1N1.
Through genetic modification, however, researchers at The Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge have created a chicken that does not transmit the virus to other chickens. Essentially, these GM chickens would be the dead end for a virus that can quickly spread in poultry flocks.
Moreover, through this modification, the risk of transmitting the bird flu to humans becomes greatly reduced.
Until these chickens are commercialized, however, chicken owners should definitely follow the advice of the CDC when handling their flocks. Luckily, dressing chickens up as Santa isn’t a thing. Or is it?