WASHINGTON, May 30, 2008--The complete genetic coding sequences of 150 different avian influenza viruses were released today by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists and government, industry and university collaborators. The information improves scientific understanding of avian influenza, a virus that mainly infects birds but that can also infect humans.
"This is a major milestone in avian influenza research," said David Suarez, research leader of the Exotic and Emerging Avian Viral Diseases Research Unit at the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory (SEPRL) operated at Athens, Ga., by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of USDA. Suarez oversees the ARS avian influenza virus repository at SEPRL.
"This sequence information, deciphered by our large team, will help researchers better understand virus biology and improve diagnostic tests for avian influenza viruses," Suarez added.
Today's release to GenBank, the National Institutes of Health's genetic sequence database, was part of a special sequencing project supported by the presidential initiative on avian influenza. Partners involved in collecting the viruses included USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Wildlife Services, as well as researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA), Ohio State University (OSU) and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and others.
After the virus isolates were prepared at SEPRL, the virus' noninfectious genetic material, called ribonucleic acid or RNA, was sent to industry collaborator SeqWright Corporation in Houston, Texas, which used its expertise to fully sequence the genome of each virus. The sequence information was reviewed and annotated at SEPRL for release to GenBank.
"The project's ultimate goal is to sequence 900 avian influenza viruses from the SEPRL repository," said Suarez. "These include avian influenza viruses collected from both poultry and wild bird species in the United States and around the world."
The sequence information will be combined with studies comparing the viruses' ability to infect and cause disease in several poultry species including chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks. The analysis of the sequence and biological data will provide new insights into how these viruses cause disease in man and animals. The biological characterization was performed with collaborations with UGA, OSU and University of Delaware collaborators.