In a world-first, scientists from The University of Western Australia haveassembled the entire DNA of the black swan, which could offer insight into howthe bird, and even humans, respond to bird flu and other pandemics in the samefamily of viruses.

The black swan, a species native to Western Australia and the State’s officialbird emblem, is particularly vulnerable to bird flu compared to other birds.Similarly, humans who contract the virus are also very vulnerable, with highfatality rates.

The mapping of black swan DNA was carried out through DNA Zoo, a globalinitiative that analyses DNA from different species of animals to helpresearchers, leaders and policy-makers better understand species through theirDNA, as well as threats to their survival.

DNA Zoo Australia Director Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur, from UWA’sSchool of Agriculture and Environment, said although bird flu had onlyaffected 862 people world-wide since 2003, more than half of those whocontracted the virus did not survive.

“Understanding how black swan DNA is structured and regulated at gene levelwill help us understand why this bird is so vulnerable to bird flu,” AssociateProfessor Kaur said.

“This will provide us with much-needed information to better understand andprotect the bird and could also be translated into medical research forhumans.

“Because viruses such as bird flu can spill over into humans, and pandemicsare only predicted to increase in the future, research into animal and humanresponses to them has never been more important.”

Associate Professor Kaur said understanding immune genes in the black swan andcomparing them to genes in closely related species would help build a betterunderstanding of the deadly bird flu and its effects.

“DNA Zoo Australia regularly partners with conservation bodies, zoos and manyother collaborators across Australasia to collect, sequence and analysegenomes to protect Australian biodiversity,” Associate Professor Kaur said.

The project was made possible by Dr Kirsty Short, Professor Dave Burt andAnjana Karawita at the University of Queensland, with additional computationalresources and support from the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and funding fromthe Federal and WA State Governments.

More information on the global genome sequencing program is available on theDNA Zoo website.

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