Duck gene helps fight flu in chickens

14 April 2010

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Category: Research & medical benefits

chicken.jpgInfluenza protection can be transferred across species, say scientists who have identified a key gene in ducks.

The gene, known as RIG-I, allows the immune system to contain the virus. This allows the duck to live unaffected by the flu. Yet flu can spread to chickens having fatal effects and evolve into lethal human strains such as H5N1.

Scientists analysed the genome of chickens and could not find the RIG-I gene. They then transferred RIG-I from the ducks into the chickens and found that their immune system was able to fight the flu more effectively. Normally once a chicken is infected it may die within 18 hours. Yet with the RIG-I gene, the immune system was able to cut viral replication by up to 50% in chickens.

Inserting the gene could help mitigate the problem of virulent flu strains which are transferred from chickens to humans. Developing complete resistance in chickens would also protect poultry farms worldwide.