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Mark Berres: Bird genetics possible key to halting avian flu

[audio:http://news.cals.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/mark_berres_avian_flu.mp3|titles=Mark Berres: Bird genetics and avian flu]

Transcript:

Sevie Kenyon

A virus on the wing. We are visiting today with Mark Berres, Department of Animal Science, University of Wisconsin Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon. Mark, welcome to our microphone. Can you start out by describing to us what avian flu is?

Mark Berres

Avian flu, or sometimes even more commonly known as H5N1, is an influenza virus. This virus is very prevalent in South East Asia where the agricultural practices are such that it really provides the best possible environment for the virus to propagate.

Sevie Kenyon

What are the things that make avian flu so important to us?

Mark Berres

Avian influenza can in fact cross species barriers. In other words, it can transmit itself from agricultural operations and infect, in many cases lethally infect, people. So not only is there an economic concern in terms of the effect of avian influenza on poultry operations, but because this disease exhibits what we call a zoonotic potential, the health concerns are significant.

Sevie Kenyon

Mark, can you perhaps explain to us where we are vulnerable to this virus?

Mark Berres

At this point, it is my opinion that we are actually fairly insulated at this time. However, the virus itself is a naturally occurring virus and it does occur in natural avian populations, particularly in waterfowl and certain shore birds. The majority of our poultry operations are actually enclosed and indoors where they don’t have contact, for example, with wild birds that may be carrying the virus itself.

Sevie Kenyon

Well Mark, perhaps you can tell us what your research is pointing to?

Mark Berres

In our lab here, we have really started a new investigation into how to control avian influenza at its source. And really this is in terms of agricultural operations. What we are interested in is developing chickens that actually have enhanced immunity to H5N1. In wild Red Junglefowl, the influenza resistant genes are nearly fixed. That means that virtually everybody has some innate resistance to avian influenza. So our work really looks at identifying specifically which gene or genes can enhance the innate immunity and simply transfer that gene into the domestic agricultural flocks that we have already established.

Sevie Kenyon

We have been visiting with Mark Berres, Department of Animal Science, University of Wisconsin Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.