Duck genome provides new insight into fighting influenza

Published on: Jun 10, 2013

The duck genome consortium — consisting of scientists from China Agricultural University, BGI, University of Edinburgh and other institutes — has completed the genome sequencing and analysis of the duck (Anas platyrhynchos), one principal natural host of influenza A viruses. This work reveals some noteworthy conclusions and provides a resource for unraveling the interactive mechanisms between the host and influenza viruses.

The H7N9 avian influenza strain killed 36 people and caused $6.5 billion loss to China's economy earlier this year. As a natural host of influenza A viruses (including H5N1), the duck is known to often remain asymptomatic under influenza infection. To uncover the interactive mechanisms between the host and influenza viruses, researchers sequenced the genome of a 10-week-old female Beijing duck, and conducted transcriptomic studies on two virus-infected ducks.

This work yielded the draft sequence of a waterfowl duck for the first time, and the data indicated that the duck, like the chicken and zebra finch, possessed a contractive immune gene repertoire comparing to those in mammals, and it also comprises novel genes that are not present in other birds such as chickens, zebra finches and turkeys.

By comparing gene expression in the lungs of ducks infected with either highly or weakly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses, the team identified genes whose expression patterns were altered in response to avian influenza viruses. They also identify factors that may be involved in duck host immune response to avian virus infection, including the avian and mammalian defensin gene families.

Jianwen Li, project manager from BGI, said, "This study provides very important data to better understand the interaction between the host and the avian influenza. Scientists will be able to explore more deeply the mechanisms on the spread and infection of avian influenza."