Scientists have identified an influenza detector gene that could possibly prevent the transmission of the virus to humans.
A University of Alberta-led research team has discovered the genetic detector that allows ducks to live, unharmed, as the host of influenza.
The duck's virus detector gene, called retinoic acid inducible gene-I, or RIG-I, 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 like the H5N1 influenza virus.
The first human H5N1 cases were in Hong Kong in 1997. Eighteen people with close contact to chickens became infected and six died.
The research by Katharine Magor, a U of A associate professor of biology, shows that chickens do not have a RIG-I gene.
A healthy chicken can die within 18 hours after infection, but researchers have successfully transferred the RIG-I gene from ducks to chicken cells.
The chicken's defenses against influenza were augmented and RIG-I reduced viral replication by half.
One potential application of this research could affect the worldwide poultry industry by production of an influenza-resistant chicken created by transgenesis.
The study appears in the online, early edition of Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences.