New bird flu tests to assess emerging strains

Tissue tests being developed by an international team of scientists could help spot mild strains
Tissue tests being developed by an international team of scientists could help spot mild strains

New tests may be able to spot emerging strains of bird flu which are categorised as mild but have the potential to become more dangerous.

The tissue tests could help stem losses for the poultry industry by successfully spotting mild strains with the potential to evolve into more dangerous ones.

The study will focus on several types of bird flu viruses that are not presently categorised alongside severe strains known to be a threat.

Outcomes from the three-year project could help identify risks associated with emerging strains, so that those with high potential for disease can be managed appropriately.

They could also contribute to ongoing worldwide surveillance measures for flu, which is a major challenge for the poultry industry.

The international team behind the project will seek to determine the biological factors that enable some low-risk strains of flu to become more harmful.

Researchers will manipulate the RNA of strains of flu in the lab, to try to pinpoint the genetic code linked to a risk of serious disease.

The team may be able to compare the impact of typically low-risk strains of flu with those that have evolved to become more harmful.

They will also investigate how these viruses interact with poultry and wild birds, to better assess the potential risks from viruses that pass between the two groups.

Experiments will test the impact of the strains on various tissues, to check for signs of severe disease that would be expected to occur in domestic or wild birds.

Prof Lonneke Vervelde, of the Roslin Institute said: "We know that mild H5 H7 strains can become very dangerous, but it is becoming clear that other mild strains are, to our surprise, becoming more virulent.

"It is critical that we seek to better understand the risks associated with these potentially harmful viruses."

The project, known as FluNuance, is funded by the International Coordination of Research on Infectious Animal Diseases (ICRAD).