A “frozen aviary” that could preserve the genetic material of all types of poultry – from heritage commercial stock to pure breeds – is one step closer thanks to new funding.

The Roslin Institute and poultry breeding firm Cobb have been awarded a £650,000 grant from Innovate UK, a government body that supports research, for an initial project in creating a record of poultry’s genetic stock.

Although embryonic preservation has been possible for mammals for some time, meaning animals can be stored and resurrected at a later date, it has not been possible to do so with poultry embryos.

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This has meant breeding companies such as Cobb have had to keep heritage strains of birds from as far back as 50-60 years in production, to preserve the traits that led to the modern broiler. Another consequence is that pure-breed stock and other endangered bird species could not be preserved.

Professor Pete Kaiser, deputy director at The Roslin Institute, said the genetic material would form an “insurance policy” against the loss of individual traits, or even entire breeds, and could remove the need to keep heritage strains in production.

“We’ve long been looking for a way to freeze down the genetic material of birds. This grant is to do so with one line of commercial heritage stock, but from this initial project we hope to set up a ‘frozen aviary’,” he added.

It is understood this project is the first of its type in the world.

Dr Mitch Abrahamsen, vice-president of research and development at Cobb-Vantress, said: “Our investment and collaboration with the Roslin Institute represents a major initiative to address the genetic basis for improved breeder and broiler performance in an era of changing management programmes.

“The awarding of funding from the UK government to support our collaboration is a significant recognition of the quality of the researchers involved.”