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International 3Rs Prize now open for applications. £30k prize (£2k personal award) for outstanding science with demonstrable 3Rs impacts.

NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science
Project grant

Cryo-storing research lines of chicken to eliminate breeding and save genetic resources

Test tubes

At a glance

Award date
December 2020 - November 2023
Grant amount
Principal investigator
Dr Michael McGrew
University of Edinburgh


  • Reduction
Read the abstract
View the grant profile on GtR


Why did we fund this project?

This award aims to reduce the number of chickens maintained as permanent breeding flocks for research by optimising cryopreservation procedures for the most commonly used breeds at the Roslin Institute.

Cryopreservation is used to preserve samples of cells and tissue at low temperatures, allowing long-term preservation. In mammalian research, embryos and germ cells can be cryopreserved maintaining the genetics of the model and avoiding the need to continually maintain the animals “on the shelf” when they are currently not required for experimental purposes. However, these cryopreservation methods do not work for avian reproductive cells so flocks of chickens must be raised and maintained indefinitely to provide research animals. Dr Mike McGrew has developed a new technology where reproductive cells from chickens can be frozen and transferred into eggs from a sterile chicken line. Chickens hatched using this protocol lay eggs of the transferred chicken breed.

With NC3Rs funding, Mike will optimise cryopreservation for three research chicken breeds using the new protocol by transferring multiple genotypes into sterile eggs. He will then confirm the genotype transmission rate and determine the number of birds needed for a genetically diverse flock to be reconstituted from frozen material. The flock’s health and virility will be validated and the first research poultry biobank created.



  1. Hu T et al. (2022). A low-tech, cost-effective and efficient method for safeguarding genetic diversity by direct cryopreservation of poultry embryonic reproductive cells. eLife 11:e74036. doi: 10.7554/eLife.74036