Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

On a wing and a prayer

04.08.2005


Alaska researchers seek clues to bird flu



While Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Birds" made many of us uneasy at the sight of amassing gulls years ago, today public health officials around the world are beginning to cast an equally uneasy eye toward migratory birds, especially in Alaska, following recent outbreaks of avian influenza in Southeast Asia and, last week, in Siberia.

Alaska is at the intersection of the Asian and North American flyways for migratory birds and scientists say that could provide an unusual mixing ground for the evolution of new strains of bird flu - strains that could spread to lower latitudes and possibly jump to other species, including humans.


University of Alaska (UAF) scientists and state and federal biologists from across Alaska have joined forces and formed the University of Alaska Program on the Biology and Epidemiology of Avian Influenza in Alaska to study migratory birds in Alaska and determine how many are infected and how strains of influenza virus jump from one species to another.

Wild birds are the natural hosts of many influenza viral strains that normally do not infect humans. However, recent outbreaks of bird flu in Southeast Asia were caused by a highly pathogenic H5N1 strain and there is increasing evidence that this strain can jump the species barrier and cause severe disease and mortality in humans. A second and even greater concern, according to the World Health Organization, is the possibility that the present situation could give rise to an influenza pandemic in humans akin to the 1918 "Spanish Flu." On Friday, WHO warned that China is not rigorously following up on a recent deadly H5N1 outbreak among wild birds.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more than 500,000 people in the United States and as many as 50 million people worldwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Many died within the first few days after infection; almost half of those who died were healthy, young adults.

"The initial goal of the (UA) program is to assess the diversity and prevalence of avian influenza in Alaska’s bird populations," said Jonathan Runstadler, veterinarian, assistant professor of molecular biology at UAF’s Institute of Arctic Biology, and a lead scientist on the Avian Influenza Program.

Runstadler along with biologists and technicians from UAF and state, federal and private wildlife agencies are spending part of this summer’s bird-banding season collecting cloacal swabs of birds temporarily captured as part of other studies.

"One of the reasons we don’t understand the ecology of the virus is that we don’t know what happens to the virus in its natural ecosystem," Runstadler said. "We need to understand how the biology of birds impacts disease transmission. For instance, does the time of year when birds nest, fledge, stage, migrate, or interact with young birds affect transmission?"

The cloacal samples will be screened for the avian influenza virus, positive samples will be identified and sent to The Institute of Genomic Research (TIGR) for sequencing of the entire viral RNA genome which will then be published in GenBank, the National Institutes of Health collection of all publicly available RNA and DNA sequences.

With gene sequences, bird species, geographic location and capture information in hand, Tom Marr, UA president’s professor of bioinformatics, Jim Long, biotechnology computing technical leader, and Buck Sharpton, UA president’s professor of remote sensing plan to create the first Web site of georeferenced avian influenza data.

"We knew about (bird) flu because Kevin Winker has been talking about flu for years," said George Happ, Director of the IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) at UAF, which is funding the UA avian influenza program.

"Before I came nobody was paying attention to the extensive overlap between the Old World and New World migration systems as a disease pathway," said Winker, curator of birds at the UA Museum of the North and an associate professor of biology at UAF.

"Our ability to combine studies in natural history and biomedicine is why I came to UAF," Runstadler said. "We are best able to do this type of research at UAF because we have the expertise in biological and ecological science, the state resources, and now the biomedical capabilities."

Marie Gilbert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uaf.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus University

nachricht UK chemistry researchers develop catalyst that mimics the z-scheme of photosynthesis
26.06.2017 | University of Kentucky

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers

26.06.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

New research reveals impact of seismic surveys on zooplankton

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Correct connections are crucial

26.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>