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Single vaccine developed for avian flu and duck enteritis

Copyright free (Pixabay/Creative Commons CC0)
News from: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
News from: The Pirbright Institute

For the first time, researchers led by Professor Munir Iqbal at The Pirbright Institute have been able to insert protective avian influenza virus genes into the DEV vaccine virus by using a method of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing that allows higher rates of gene insertion. This makes the process more efficient and the resulting vaccine virus is able to protect ducks against both DEV and avian influenza.

Duck enteritis virus (DEV) infects ducks, geese and swans, causing mortality rates of up to 100%. Vaccines are widely used to reduce the impact of DEV, and have recently been utilised for delivering vaccine components of other viruses such as avian influenza. Domestic duck populations in southeast Asia also play a key role in maintaining the reservoir of severe bird flu strains and allow infection to ‘spillover’ into chickens, making ducks important targets for vaccination campaigns.

As with human flu, bird flu vaccination is complicated by the hundreds of potential strains, with seasonal variations determining which vaccine should be used. The gene editing technique, described in Viruses, enables the rapid generation of vaccines that can protect against DEV whilst keeping up with the changing circulating flu strains.

Professor Munir Iqbal, leader of the Avian Influenza group, said: “This is the first time this CRISPR/Cas9 method has been applied to duck enteritis virus and is an exciting step forward in the rapid development of bird flu vaccines. Vaccines that protect ducks against DEV as well as severe forms of avian flu will reduce production losses for duck farmers, safeguard other poultry species against flu infection and lower the risk of transmission to humans.”

DEV is increasingly being used to deliver protective genes to birds due to its large genome size, making it easy to manipulate, and the narrow range of species it is able to infect. The method’s design allows its application to different genes and viruses, opening up the possibility that other diseases can be tackled rapidly using this system.

The vaccine is now ready for registration, and collaborations with pharmaceutical companies are being sought in order for the vaccine to be commercialised. The potential for avian flu to mutate in such a way that makes human-to-human transmission possible is of increasing concern, so vaccinating ducks is an essential strategy for protecting both birds and humans from infection.


Notes to editors

For more information about the research conducted by Professor Iqbal’s group, visit: The Pirbright Institute: Avian Influenza.

This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) ZELS grant number BB/L018853/1, BBSRC ISPG grant number BBS/E/I/00007032, BBSRC grant BB/P016472/1 and British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links grant IL3261727271.

About The Pirbright Institute

The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.

With an annual income of nearly £26.1 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £5 million strategic investment from BBSRC during 2016-2017, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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Tags: fundamental bioscience The Pirbright Institute avian flu disease CRISPR animal welfare press release