In the fight against bird flu, or the H5N1 virus, scientists in Australia are creating genetically modified chickens to make them resistant to bird flu in bid to find a cure for the potentially deadly virus.

According to the Geelong Advertiser, the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) project is producing genetically modified chickens using cutting-edge science from the plant world. Scientists hope the chickens will be able to produce offspring which are immune to the deadly bird flu.

Dr. Martyn Jeggo, former CSIRO AAHL Director who recently retired, said the global implications could not be overstated for this project. "Right now, is the first time we have ever produced a resistant animal to a major disease like this. If we can do it for one, why the hell can't we do it for every other disease? This is a proof-of-concept project which is massive, massive, massive," Jeggo said.

Dr Jeggo said CSIRO plant scientists had found RNAi molecules could "switch off" genes in plants to create changes such as bigger ears of corn, stronger stalks or drought-resistance. The process used in the genetically modified produce created the groundwork used in the bird flu research. The researchers believe that interfering with RNAs is the right path to take when creating vaccines and disease resistant animals.

"Interfering with RNAs is the real answer to vaccines and disease-resistant animals, cancer, a whole range of important things," Dr Jeggo said. "In CSIRO Plant Industries a lot of the pioneering work has been done for a lot of this ... which is why we (CSIRO AAHL) are now the lead group in producing an influenza-resistant chicken."

However, the genetically modified chickens have not yet been proven to be resistant to the bird flu. Australian researchers stated that it will be a complicated process to show the animals are immune to the avian flu and that they are able to breed equally resistant offspring.

Since the first outbreak of bird flu in 2003, there have been 620 reported cases and 367 deaths. Cambodia is experiencing the worst outbreak of the bird flu virus and has already reported seven human cases this year, all of them fatal except one, according to the World Health Organization. China has had two cases and Egypt one case which resulted in death, bring the total to 10 infections this year and 7 deaths.