New $1+ million grant helps researchers address important avian diseases

November 20, 2019
Funding from the USDA aims to improve animal health and economic outcomes in the poultry industry

ST. PAUL, MINN. --- Researchers at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), the Pirbright Institute in Surrey, United Kingdom, and the University of Oxford will use $1,025,000 in funding from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to define how infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) affects the transmission of diseases caused by influenza A virus (the cause of avian influenza) in chickens. The team is led by Carol Cardona, DVM, PhD, professor and Pomeroy Endowed Chair in Avian Health in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, and Andrew Broadbent, DVM, PhD, a research fellow at the Pirbright Institute.

“Understanding transmission and evolution of infectious diseases is really important not just for chickens, but for any population, be it humans or animals,” says Marie Culhane, DVM, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine at the CVM and co-investigator on the project who has spent her career studying influenza viruses in all species. “I am excited about this research because it could have broader implications, such as how the immune status of an individual in the flock, herd, or group affects disease spread.”

Specifically, the data collected in this project will be used in transmission and surveillance simulation models, which will help determine the impact of IBDV exposure and spread of disease. These simulations models will also attempt to capture the effect of IBDV exposure on the time it takes to detect avian influenza virus shedding from the infected birds to other birds in the same environment. 

The data collected in this study could be used to raise awareness of the need to maintain good immune status in a flock, benefiting animal welfare. It could also influence policy on the management of avian influenza by revealing a need for either increased surveillance for IBDV in both wild and domestic birds, or screenings of the immune status of chicken flocks to help identify at-risk flocks earlier in their lives. 

IBDV lowers the effectiveness of the immune system in chickens, which could make them more likely to get other infectious diseases. The researchers suspect that IBDV may also be a key player in the spread of avian influenza, prolonging the period in which birds can shed viruses into their environment, and reducing vaccine efficacy. IBDV has also been found in wild bird species in Europe. Since wild birds are the natural hosts for avian influenza, it’s quite likely that wild birds with both IBDV and avian influenza will be better at spreading their viruses to domestic poultry. This project also aims to investigate the viral genetic code and how differences in that code change the way the viruses move.

“A major advantage of this project is the combination of studies in both poultry and aquatic waterfowl populations,” says Cardona. “This allows for a more holistic, integrated approach that combines field studies and metagenomic sequencing with experimental challenge studies in order to answer fundamental questions regarding the ecology and evolution of IBDV and avian influenza virus, which are both economically important pathogens for the poultry industry.” 



Marie Culhane, [email protected], 612-624-7423
Carol Cardona, [email protected], 651-253-2870

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