The black swan is a majestic and beautiful bird native to Australia. It is a symbol of grace and elegance, and it is admired by people all over the world. Unfortunately, the black swan is now facing an uncertain future, as it is classified as an ᴇɴᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀᴇᴅ species.
Research from the University of Queensland says the genetic makeup of Australia’s famous black swan (Cygnus atratus) makes it highly susceptible to avian ɪɴꜰʟᴜᴇɴᴢᴀ ᴠɪʀᴜsᴇs. The ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ is so sᴇᴠᴇʀᴇ that it could wipe out the species entirely.
The discovery comes after the bird’s distinctive genome was sequenced, for the first time, in 2021. It’s a welcome achievement from a scientific perspective, but it also shows “something remarkable. sad” about the fate of the black swan.
Part of the reason for this result is that the black swan is geographically isolated. These animals were not exposed to ᴘᴀᴛʜᴏɢᴇɴs found outside southeast and southwest Australia, the areas where it primarily lives and breeds. “Swans are extremely susceptible to highly ᴘᴀᴛʜᴏɢᴇɴɪᴄ ᴀᴠɪᴀɴ ɪɴғʟᴜᴇɴᴢᴀ – HPAI is commonly known as ᴀᴠɪᴀɴ ꜰʟᴜ – and can ᴅɪᴇ from the ᴅɪsᴇᴀsᴇ within three days.”
Black swans are missing several essential immune genes in their DNA. So any infection with ᴀᴠɪᴀɴ ᴠɪʀᴜsᴇs is established in its natural habitat, their survival will be in ᴊᴇᴏᴘᴀʀᴅʏ.
The researchers discovered a protein that was not activated as it should have. These parts of the genome protect against ᴀᴠɪᴀɴ ɪɴғʟᴜᴇɴᴢᴀ and other ᴘᴀᴛʜᴏɢᴇɴs. In other words, the gene that protects against the bird ꜰʟᴜ ᴠɪʀᴜs is still there, just not activated when needed – and that puts the black swan at ʀɪsᴋ.
Knowing more about the ᴠᴜʟɴᴇʀᴀʙɪʟɪᴛʏ of this precious bird will help efforts to protect it. The black swan is one of the species conservationists least worried about, with a worldwide population of up to one million. However, those numbers can change drastically over a short time.
Captive breeding programs are also being used to help boost black swan populations. These programs involve breeding black swans in captivity and releasing them into the wild once they are old enough to survive.
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