Some new research from the Pirbright Institute has discovered that some chickens are almost completely immune to avian influenza. Research has shown that birds which carry avian influenza but are genetically resistant to the disease only shed the virus for a limited period of time and only through the respiratory tract. This means that resistant chickens are completely unable to spread or sustain the infection. Birds that are susceptible to the disease shed the virus in faeces and over a longer period of time.
Professor Venugopal Nair, head of the Avian Viral Diseases programme at the Pirbright Institute, said:
“The findings of this study emphasise the importance of examining the intricate nature of the virus-host interactions and the potential role of the host genetic factors influencing the transmission dynamics and outcomes of important diseases such as avian flu.”
This research paves the way for further investigation and work is planned to discover and examine precisely which biological mechanisms behind this form of genetic resistance. It is thought that the genetics of the resistant chickens act as a restriction measure and stop the virus spreading when inside the body.
Dr Colin Butter, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, which was heavily involved in the research, said the results of the research were significant:
“Until now we knew relatively little about how a bird’s genetics can affect its reaction to flu virus, but this new research, which for the first time shows that some poultry lines are genetically resistant to avian flu, represents a significant step forward.
“The prospect of breeding birds with natural immunity to influenza virus would certainly widen the scope of existing control measures and perhaps limit the risk to the human population of the emergence of pandemic viruses.
“Furthermore, as human genetic determinants for catching flu are comparatively unknown, research such as ours, which is developing a better understanding of the genes and mechanisms involved, could also lead to improved therapeutic options in humans.”
Whilst this is still very early days in the research process, the signs so far are fascinating and could have huge knock-on effects to our industry. The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and included scientists from the University of Oxford and The Francis Crick Institute in London.