You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Aus researchers' bird virus breakthrough

AAP logoAAP 4/10/2016 Lisa Robinson

A vaccine for the debilitating beak and feather disease virus that is threatening the survival of some of Australia's rarest parrot species could soon be developed after researchers unravelled the structure of the virus.

The disease, which can lead to starvation and death as feathers moult and beaks soften, is one of the main threats to several native species including the western ground and orange-bellied parrots that have fewer than 50 remaining in the wild.

A team of researchers led by Charles Sturt University scientists has been working out the molecular makeup of the disease-causing virus since 2009 and on Tuesday revealed its structure in the Nature Communications journal.

CSU Professor in Veterinary Pathobiology Shane Raidal said the finding is a significant step towards finding new approaches to restore threatened parrot populations.

"By confirming how the viral structure forms, we can begin to develop a vaccine to interrupt these processes," he said.

Chair of the national Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team Barry Baker said the virus has undoubtedly contributed to the Tasmanian species' dwindling numbers.

"There was an outbreak a couple of years ago in the wild and we're aware that some of the chicks had been affected by it and that certainly drove a lot of action to get on top of it," he told AAP.

The recovery program augments the wild population with the release of captive-bred birds.

"We have to go through an extensive testing regime to make sure that birds we release are not compromised and therefore hopefully won't be adding to the woes of birds that are already in the field," Mr Baker said.

"A vaccine is a critical step that will make transferring birds from captivity to the wild a lot easier than it currently is."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon