AsianScientist (Jun. 12, 2013) – An international team of scientists has analyzed the duck genome for the first time, revealing genetic factors that protect ducks from the harmful effects of bird flu. The study provides insights into how the duck immune system responds to avian influenza infections and may provide clues for fighting bird flu in birds and humans.
Ducks are known to be natural hosts of bird flu viruses (including H5N1): they carry the viruses but seldom developing flu symptoms. By understanding the genetic factors that give ducks immunity against the bird flu, the scientists hope to gain insights for combating bird flu in humans which has become a major health concern in the past decade.
In this study, published in Nature Genetics, the scientists analyzed the genome of a 10-week old female mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) from Beijing, China.
The researchers compared the duck genome with those of other birds and mammals previously sequenced. They found that, like chickens and zebra finches, ducks carried fewer genes responsible for immune system function compared to humans and mice.
However, their analysis also found that the duck genome contained novel genes that were not found in the genomes of the chicken, zebra finch, or turkey. These novel genes contributed to the expansion of a particular family of genes, the defensins, which function in host defense against bacteria, fungi, and many viruses.
In their study, the team also identified genes that were strongly activated in the lungs of infected ducks shortly after they were exposed to the H5N1 influenza A virus.
These findings provided insights into how ducks may have evolved immunity to bird flu viruses and also shed light on how birds respond to such infections.
Although further work is required to fully understand the implications of these findings, the knowledge gained from the duck genome sequence may one day provide clues for combating such viruses in humans.
The article can be found at: Huang et al. (2013) The Duck Genome And Transcriptome Provide Insight Into An Avian Influenza Virus Reservoir Species.
Source: BGI; Photo: Tang Yew Chung.
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