American Black Duck and Threat of Avian Influenza

Science Center Objects

The Challenge: The genomic revolution is giving wildlife biologists new tools to assess the role of wildlife in spreading diseases that affect human populations.   Peptide arrays are a high throughput technology that gives unprecedented breadth and depth of information about the immune system.  We are using peptide arrays to assess the immune responses of Chesapeake Bay waterfowl to avian influenza.   The role of waterfowl species in the spread of avian influenza (AI) has increased the value to public health authorities of the susceptibility of duck and geese species.

The Science: Has the health of Chesapeake Bay waterfowl been affected by decades of agricultural run-off, industrial contaminants, pollution from the poultry industry and human settlements?  Environmental stressors lower the susceptibility of wildlife species to infection by infectious diseases like avian influenza.  Using peptide arrays we can assess the effectiveness of the immune responses of both black and mallard ducks to AI.

The Future:We will use the peptide array to assess the relative impact on waterfowl health of other environmental stressors and changes in diet.  For the past 50 years, populations of the iconic American black duck have declined dramatically while populations of the closely-related mallard duck have increased in abundance.   We will compare the relative impact of environmental stressors such as industrial contaminants, agricultural run-off, and pollution human settlements on the  immune response of these two ducks and their resistance to infection with pathogens like AI.  These waterfowl are the first to which the peptide array technology has been applied and thus the first for which a comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the immune system will be obtained.