Wildlife & Biodiversity

Scientists map black swan genome to better understand immune response

Black swans are highly susceptible to the bird flu virus and the scientists hope to uncover clues to prevent the next pandemic

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 31 July 2020
Scientists map black swan genome to better understand immune response. Photo: Flickr

Australian scientists have mapped the genome of the black swam, a species highly susceptible to the avian flu virus, in order to better understand immune response and protect public health.

The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) usually occurs in birds and can sometimes spill over to humans. More than 50 per cent of the 800 people infected globally by HPAI since 2003 have not survived, the researchers from the University of Queensland were quoted as having reportedly said in the media. 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization consideres six countries to be endemic for the HPAI virus in poultry as of 2011, namely Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. 

“If the current pandemic teaches us anything, it’s that it is important we know more about potential animal-to-human viruses early,” Kirsty Short, the head of the team, said.

The researchers wanted to understand as to why black swans were so susceptible to HPAI. The swans can die from viral infection in 24 hours whereas ducks are hardly affected and develop only mild symptoms. 

The research team has already identified certain genes that might be responsible for the manner in which black swans are affected by HPAI.

“We’re annotating immune genes in the black swan genome and comparing them to genes in the closely related mute swan genome, along with other avian species. We’re also employing computer-driven large scale comparisons of these genomes,” Short said.

The genome has been made publicly available for researchers around the world to build a better understanding of HPAI and its effects. It is available publicly in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) database (under bio project code: PRJNA640810).

The team is also assembling the first-ever mute swan genome in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology in Germany and is hoping to make it public soon. 

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