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Migratory birds may not be the culprits they were once thought to be when it comes to spreading infectious diseases, including avian influenza, around the world.
That’s because a new study shows while they can have high levels of infection, it is usually because they have caught a local strain for which they have little resistance.
“The work is from the northern hemisphere but the bottom line is quite interesting for Australians too,” said Professor Marcel Klaassen, a member of the international team of researchers involved in the project who heads up Deakin’s high-flying Centre for Integrative Ecology.
“It investigates the role of migrants in avian influenza dynamics.
“Migrants have always been identified as playing a major role in these dynamics.
“This study confirms that, but the nature of that role might be slightly different than previously thought.
“Migrants do not necessarily bring new viruses to their destinations but rather get infected by local strains that are novel to them and to which they have no natural antibodies.
“So they get the flu at the destination rather than importing it. This phenomenon may explain why we find Australia to be rather isolated, given the genetics of the flu strains occurring in Australia, although we regularly find migratory waders to be infected.
“So the spread of disease by birds is probably not all that high.
“The spread of commercial products is probably a more likely cause.
“There is a lot of traffic going on which explains why we in Australia are very vigilant about the movement of these commercial products, like meat and feathers and so on.”
Since its inception three years ago, the CIE has become a key member of Deakin’s growing international research footprint.
“I am very pleased with how things are going,” said Professor Klaassen.
“We’ve had Professor John Endler get into the Australian Academy of Science.
“That is wonderful recognition for John's great work which of course is continuing at Deakin.
“As well as quality, we have also grown in terms of the number of researchers in the Centre.
“We have more Research Fellows, more PhD students.
“The growth is also because of the new staff members who have joined us.
“We have been able to attract some really cool people to Deakin.
“People are hearing about the Centre around the world and wanting to come here and work.
“We have our researchers now at the Burwood Campus, at Waurn Ponds in Geelong and in Warrnambool and luckily enough we have exciting stuff happening on all three campuses.
“There is a very good vibe about working with CIE, that is a vibe that inspires me and I think it inspires my colleagues too, wherever they are situated within the University.
“We’ve had Professor Graeme Hays join us in Warrnambool where he is focussing on a wide range of marine science.
"Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou who is also at Warrnambool now has a new research vessel with all its commercial possibilities, which is great for the University in terms of generating income.
“He also has great potential for blue sky research that is yet to be fully tapped.
“We have Luis Afonso who has just joined us.
“He is looking at stress in fish, and he is working closely with Giovanni Turchini, who has been with us for some time now.
“We also have fantastic things happening at Burwood, where Nick Porch has joined us, and won a DECRA Award.
“And of course we have Euan Ritchie, who has just been honoured in this year’s Eureka Awards.
“All over the University, we have some pretty cool stuff happening.
“Of course we won’t be resting on our laurels, but sometimes, it is good just to stop and have a look at what you’re doing, what you might have achieved, so that you can set yourself new goals.
“I see for CIE a growing international reputation that will be good for us, and very good for Deakin.”