Experts hoping to breed chickens with 'safer eggs'

Experts hope new research into the spread of bacterial disease could help to breed chickens which lay safer eggs.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute are studying a layer of the outside of the shell called the cuticle, which protects the egg from bacteria.

It comes as part of works to find out why some are more susceptible to diseases, such as E. Coli, than others.

Dr Ian Dunn, who leads the project at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, said: "Eating eggs is safer than ever in the UK. Our research is focused on reducing contamination risks even further by breeding hens that produce higher quality eggs.

"This could help to reduce the need for antibiotics in poultry production and will bring huge welfare benefits for the birds themselves."

The main focus of the research is to reduce the risk of disease being passed on to the chicks that hatch from these eggs.

Some eggs have better quality cuticles than others, which are less likely to be infected by bacteria.

The team are investigating genes linked to the outer layer's quality with in an effort to selectively breeding chickens with beneficial genes, which may lay safer eggs.

They are also investigating how environmental factors, stress, hormones, the age of the hen and the age of the egg can affect cuticle quality.

Contaminated eggs can cause food poisoning in people so efforts to reduce the risk are vital.