The initiative follows a record number of cases in the UK, in the largest and longest outbreak experienced in the country and in many parts of Europe.
Findings from the consortium will inform measures to reduce the risk of disease in birds, thereby preventing spread to humans.
Outcomes from the study could aid the UK’s poultry sector and rural economy, which have experienced significant disruption from this year’s outbreak. The knowledge gathered will also be shared with international partners to aid their efforts to tackle the disease, with benefits for reduced global risk.
The consortium will be led by the Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA) and funded by the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The collaboration aims to understand how current influenza virus strains are able to form larger and longer outbreaks, how the virus can penetrate poultry premises, and how these challenges can be addressed.
Scientists will also investigate spread and infection in different bird populations, including how the virus transmits from wild birds to farmed poultry, and why some birds, such as ducks, are more resistant to bird flu strains than others. They will map and model the spread of infection over time and across species, and will develop models to predict how the viruses will evolve and spread in the future.
We have never experienced such a large and long-lasting bird flu outbreak, afflicting poultry and wild birds. We will work with colleagues from a range of scientific fields to bridge knowledge gaps that underpin our ability to prevent and mitigate the threat of avian influenza.
Professor Paul Digard, Chair of Virology, Roslin Institute
The recent outbreak of bird flu has significantly affected our poultry industry and - thanks to our hard-working scientists, vets and farmers - we have been able to stamp out disease. This new consortium will allow us to combine our expertise at a national level to increase the speed and quality of our research, ensuring we can develop new strategies to aid our efforts against this insidious disease.
Professor Christine Middlemiss, UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer
This new national consortium will study the unprecedented avian influenza outbreak to better understand this latest strain and how to tackle it. This will feed rapidly into government decision-making and new strategies to protect the poultry industry and reduce the risk of future transmission to humans.
Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair, BBSRC