EDMONTON, Alberta, April 5 (UPI) -- Canadian scientists say they have discovered an influenza "detector" gene in ducks that might potentially shield humans from influenza viruses.
University of Alberta researchers led by Associate Professor Katharine Magor said the gene allows ducks to live, unharmed, as the host of influenza.
Magor's team said the duck's virus detector gene, called the retinoic acid inducible gene enables a duck's immune system to contain the virus, which typically spreads from ducks to chickens where it mutates and can evolve to be a human threat such as the H5N1 influenza virus.
Magor said her research shows chickens do not have a retinoic acid inducible gene. A healthy chicken can die within 18 hours after infection, but researchers have successfully transferred the gene from ducks to chicken cells. Those chicken's defenses against influenza were augmented and the gene reduced viral replication by half.
The scientists said their discovery might eventually affect the worldwide poultry industry by producing an influenza-resistant chicken.
The study that included doctoral candidate Megan Barber and U.S. researchers Jerry Aldridge and Robert Webster appeared in the March 22 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.