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Australian Black Swan Genome Highlights Bird's Avian Flu Risk

In Genome Biology, a University of Queensland-led team outlines insights gained by sequencing the genome of the Australian black swan, Cygnus atratus, uncovering immune insights that help explain the bird's susceptibility infectious diseases such as avian influenza, or bird flu. Using PacBio long read genome and RNA sequencing, the investigators put together chromosomes-scale sequences for the Australian black swan and the mute swan, C. olor, a related white swan that is less vulnerable to avian influenza. Along with other features that distinguish them from mute swans and other waterfowl, the authors found that the black swans "lack an expanded immune gene repertoire, lack a key viral pattern-recognition receptor in endothelial cells, and mount a poorly controlled inflammatory response to highly pathogenic avian influenza." In a statement, the University of Queensland's Kirsty Short, the study's senior author, notes 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."