Critically endangered parrot could be saved with new vaccine

Australia's orange-bellied parrot could be saved from the brink of extinction with a groundbreaking new vaccine set to be submitted to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for approval.

Found in the far southwest corner of Tasmania, it is estimated there are only 15 of the colorful Aussie birds left in the wild, with a further 400 more bred in captivity.

A major contributor to their critically endangered status over the past number of decades has been the devastating effects of Psittacine Circoviral Disease (PCD), more commonly referred to as beak and feather disease.

That is why scientists at Charles Sturt University have spent the last 10 years trying to come up with a vaccine.

"These birds breed in nest hollows and that then allows the nest batch of nestling birds to be infected," veterinary pathologist working on the project Professor Shane Raidal told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.

An orange-bellied parrot rests on a tree stump. /VCG Photo

An orange-bellied parrot rests on a tree stump. /VCG Photo

"It's very common in the wild, very recognizable and it's a pretty devastating infection when the bird gets it."

"When the birds lose their feathers they succumb to all sorts of other infections."

But after identifying a key protein, scientists are now confident they can eliminate the disease entirely.

"This particular protein of the virus encapsulates the genome, it's the outer shell of the virus," Professor of biochemistry at Charles Sturt University Dr Jade Forwood said.

"That's what is presented to the immune system."

"By producing this protein in a non-infectious form, it gives the bird an opportunity to raise an immune response, increase their antibodies and ultimately fight off the virus," Forwood added.

While researchers still have a number of hurdles to leap over in order to prove the vaccine is effective and safe, Raidal and Forwood are hopeful their work could be approved as early as 2021.

(Cover image via VCG.)

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Source(s): Xinhua News Agency