Wed, 08 Feb 2023

SYDNEY, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) -- A new research led by the University of Queensland (UQ) has revealed that the unique genetics of Australian black swan leaves the species vulnerable to viral illnesses such as avian flu.

The research, published in Genome Biology on Monday, generated a first-ever genome of the black swan, which revealed the species lacks some immune genes which help other wild waterfowl combat infectious diseases, implicating the importance of biosecurity and conservation awareness.

Co-author of the paper Kirsty Short from UQ's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences said the geographic isolation of Australia's black swans means limited exposure to pathogens commonly found in other parts of the world, leading to reduced immune diversity.

"Unlike Mallard ducks for example, black swans are extremely sensitive to highly pathogenic avian influenza -- HPAI which is often referred to as bird flu -- and can die from it within three days," Short said.

"Our data suggests that the immune system of the black swan is such that, should any avian viral infection become established in its native habitat, their survival would be in peril."

Short noted though HPAI is not currently in Australia, it has spread from Asia to North America, Europe, North Africa and South America, and the risk to the species is "very real."

"When it was introduced to new locations, such as Chile and Peru, thousands of wild seabirds perished," she said.

Over the years there have been small homegrown instances of HPAI viruses in Australia.

The recent largest outbreak of HPAI viruses (H7 subtypes) was in Victoria in 2020, which involved considerable cost and losses to the Victorian poultry industry, according to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Short said the finding that black swans were missing key genes could also suggest they were probably susceptible to a lot of other different viruses, apart from avian flu.

With the findings from the study, researchers and conservationists hope it could help increase awareness about how vulnerable Australia's bird species are to avian influenza and the highly precarious situation they are in.

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