March 12, 2024


Research project in New Zealand aims to boost defence against avian influenza



Scientists in New Zealand have initiated a research project focused on gathering environmental samples, including bird faeces, aimed at understanding the potential impact of avian influenza and other viruses in the country, 1 News reported.


Led by University of Otago Professor Jemma Geoghegan and Dr David Winter of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), the Te Niwha research project collaborates with local communities to develop a portable in-field environmental DNA detection tool for bird flu and other viruses as part of an enhanced nationwide surveillance system.


Recent discovery of highly infectious H5N1 avian flu in Antarctica has made Oceania the only continent where the highly pathogenic virus has not yet been detected, underscoring the importance of such research initiatives.


Geoghegan highlighted the threat posed by avian influenza, which has killed millions of birds, spilled over to mammals, and even infected humans. The role of wild aquatic birds in transmitting viruses in New Zealand remains unclear, leaving the country vulnerable to potential outbreaks with significant impacts on wildlife, agriculture, and human health.


Samples are being collected from various sites, including areas where sea, shore, and water birds are present, as well as city parks with human-bird interaction. Additionally, samples from birds in sub-Antarctic and Chatham Island regions, including species like yellow-eyed penguins, will be collected in collaboration with iwi and the Department of Conservation.


Winter emphasised the importance of leveraging genomic technologies, like those used during the COVID-19 pandemic, to monitor viruses and enhance preparedness for future threats.


-      1 News

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