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Black swan genome could be our secret weapon to combat next pandemic

Date: 31.7.2020 

Scientists have mapped the genome of the black swan in an effort to understand immune responses to the deadly 'bird flu' virus and better protect public health.

Kredit: CC0 Public Domain.The University of Queensland team, led by Dr. Kirsty Short and Ph.D. candidate Mr Anjana Karawita, sequenced the genome of black swans, a species particularly susceptible to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), also known as bird flu.

"HPAI occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious and can be deadly, especially in domestic poultry," Dr. Short said. "As of 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has considered six countries to be endemic for the virus in poultry – Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. "And the virus can occasionally spill over into humans with devastating consequences.

"Since 2003, this virus has only infected approximately 800 people worldwide, however, more than 50 percent of infected individuals have not survived the disease. "If the current pandemic teaches us anything, it's that it is important we know more about potential animal-to-human viruses early."

The researchers are hoping to understand why black swans fall victim to the virus so easily and quickly. "Of all wild bird species, black swans appear to be the most susceptible to severe symptoms of the disease and can die from the virus within 24 hours," she said. "In contrast, ducks typically only develop mild symptoms of the disease.





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