'The genetic make-up of the iconic Australian black swan (Cygnus atratus
leaves it extremely vulnerable to viruses such as avian flu, research from the
University of Queensland reports.
The threat is thought to be so severe that it could wipe out the species
The discovery comes after the distinctive bird's genome was sequenced for the
first time in 2021.
Ordinarily, this achievement would be something to celebrate from a scientific
perspective – but a comparison with closely-related northern hemisphere white
swans has revealed that certain key immune genes are missing from its DNA.
That's likely to be, at least partly, down to the way that the black swan is
isolated geographically. These animals haven't had the same exposure to
pathogens that are found outside of southeast and southwest Australia, the
areas where it primarily lives and breeds.
"[B]lack swans are extremely sensitive to highly pathogenic avian influenza –
HPAI which is often referred to as bird flu - and can die from it within three
days," says microbiologist Kirsty Short from the University of Queensland in
"Our data suggests that the immune system of the black swan is such that,
should any avian viral infection become established in its native habitat,
their survival would be in peril."
The team used powerful computer software to compare the genes of the black swan
with the closely-related mute swan (Cygnus olor
), found in the Northern
hemisphere. Tens of thousands of genes were compared in total in the search for
It was discovered that a class of proteins in the toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7)
family were not being activated as they should. These parts of the genome have
been associated with protecting against bird flu and other pathogens.
In other words, the gene for guarding against the bird flu virus is there, it's
just not being switched on when needed – and that puts the black swan under
Via Rixty Dixet.
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics