The chicken has long been a superb model system for developmental biology. The patterns of gene expression and overall development of avians and mammals are close enough to make comparisons meaningful. And windowing an egg to view an embryo, then sealing it with scotch tape is a lot easier than performing survival surgery on a pregnant mouse. The big drawback to chicken as a model system has been the lack of genetics, the inability to generate transgenic and knockout lines of birds. Though some success has been reported with chicken ES cells, the large size of the animals, the space requirements and the long generational times makes them unfeasible as laboratory animals for this purpose.

The Japanese Quail, however (Coturnix coturnix japonica), has all of the advantages of the chicken, but with a smaller sized adult, short time to sexual maturity, and prodigious egg production. In the January issue of CSH Protocols, Caltech’s Rusty Lansford and colleagues have contributed a set of papers detailing methods for generating transgenic quail via lentiviral vectors. The resultant transgenic birds can be housed and raised in a standard animal facility, with no more space requirements than mouse.

An overview is available here, and protocols for Generation of High-Titer Lentivirus, Injection of Lentivirus and Screening for Transgenic Offspring are available.