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Chicken Flu Leaps Species   Aug27 2007

Filed under Ovine Divine |

Sheep are the latest victims in deadly game of genetic dice.

In an ironic twist of cross-species interaction, having eluded SARS by immunity acquired from close contact with New Zealand graziers, sheep have succumbed to Avian Influenza.

However, Australian sheep seem poised to maintain breeding dominance with the surprise discovery of “unpredicted collateral benefits” in ovines surviving Avian influenza (also known as bird flu or avian flu).

A naturally-resistant control group of transgenic gallus-ovine has exhibited fleece ‘feathering’ and accelerated body mass gain against the standard flock, setting researchers on a last-minute scramble to stay a planned flock culling of epidemic proportion.

Despite catastrophic threat to Australia’s wool production (traditionally called the “wool clip” due to exorbitant prices) herd destruction is on hold pending breaking research into this bizarre outcome from the hybrid cross-dressing chicken flue virus.

The sheep exhibiting aves characteristics have the attention of scientists at Mediterranean Livestock Systems Program in CSIRO Livestock Industries.

They are investigating if avian DNA fragments have naturally spliced into flu-resistant sheep, with offspring lambs presenting “proto-avian” features.

Retroviral Integrase

I spoke to CELS staff laboratory researcher Dr. Jean Donas. Asked to speculate if Chicken Flu virus might beneficially ‘mutate’ in “resistant” survivors, Dr. Donas proffered:

Retroviral integrase prepares viral DNA for integration by removing 2 nucleotides from each end of unintegrated DNA in a reaction referred to as processing. However, as avian integrases frequently nick 3 nucleotides, as well as 2 nucleotides, from viral DNA ends when reaction mixtures contain Mn2+, specificity for the biologically relevant “-2? site is enhanced when the serine at amino acid 124 of Rous sarcoma virus (RSV) integrase is replaced by alanine, valine, glycine, lysine, or aspartate. Thus, the S124D protein has separated the processing and joining activities of integrase. Similar results were found for human immunodeficiency virus integrase with the analogous substitution. Moreover, RSV virions containing integrase with the S124D mutation were unable to replicate in cell cultures. Together, these data suggest that integrase has evolved to have submaximal processing activity so that it can also catalyze DNA joining.

At least, that’s how I describe it. The ocasional journalist can have trouble with it,” she added.

I should have paid more attention at school.

Early findings suggest sufficient numbers of resistant sheep might provide “new breeding stock” with an “advantageous outcome.” These progeny would, however, be considered genetically modified and subject to laws and regulations controlling new biotechnologies – the very same laws wherein and whereby global corporations were free to contaminate natural genotypes by poorly controlled trials in recalcitrant farming communities, then chemically treat the “agri-environs” to destroy all but patented strains. A trifling issue.

Beneficial spin offs have been documented by preliminary CSIRO research, including commercially significant and unexpected bonuses such as manifesting a more marketable flesh taste and also an exquisite ‘feathering’ of Merino fleece with a yarn resembling silky rayon. These qualities might mitigate market deprecations, whereby Asians can find mutton’s strong characteristic flavour unpalatable, and woollen garments’ reputation for being heavy and causing itch.

Furthermore, and of great significance to animal sentience studies, CSIRO studies corroborate graziers’ observations of uncharacteristic intelligent behaviour in survivor flocks, supported by researcher Caroline Lee, PhD. who observes “Smarter sheep are more able to deal with the system.”

Stay of ‘execution’

The Australian Minister for Agriculture, Wasnt Trussed, said intelligent, well-dressed lobbyists had urged him to allow infected sheep a “stay of execution.”

The minister pleaded caution:

I can’t verify claims by live sheep exporters that transgenic surviving sheep are by nature Muslim, based merely on observed group orientation at certain times of day.

It’s a little early at this stage to draw parallels with the first Alien movie.

We have a great opportunity here to rejuvenate our world-fleecing industry,” the Minister bleated proudly.

Farmers are experiencing minor inconveniences with surviving ovines on infected sheep stations, as I discovered in discussion with a leading fine wool poll Merino breeder at Cumnock, NSW, who was happy to allow us to use this transcription but wished to remain anonymous as he feared the Peta death squads.

Gidaaay Moight. Yeer, mioght, those bluddy lambs – them whort servoived, that is – are flappin all over thaa playce excoitin’ thaa dawgs wicha startin ta git a bit edgy.”

The grazier sighed, grimaced a little while adjusting his tackle, spat noisily into the dust, picked a fresh stalk of paspalum straw to chew on (and offered veiled threats to this reporter if he included such detail. As you can see, SheepOverboard staff are both incorruptible and somewhat incorrigible). We were joined by the farm sheep dogs, two blue cattle bitzers and a rough-headed kelpie cross with teeth like Tony Abbott.

Naarther thing, ennat. Bloody sheep are jumpin hoigher when we troi ta gittem up the raams, ..er raamps. Need taller bloody fences, too. Aneez friggin feathered fleecelets git up me noze.”

He paused..appeared ready to sneeze, then continued ..

The daawgs recken these laambs tayste less loike goat aan moor loike chikkin, burt wot wood thaa bluddy daawgs know?”

The dogs, ears cocked, now formed a close attentive circle.

Naarther daarn thing ennat, if me ovines cop it enny aarda in thaa neck, thaat Peta mob’ll avta go hop on one leg ta buggery. They’ll avta mules’em bluddy selves ta foind sumthin ta bluddy-well winge abowt!”

The dogs broke into a choking rattle resembling (I surely imagined) canine laughter, and rolled about as if in mirth. The grazier and I stared curiously at them till they regained composure and one by one returned our gaze, their pink blood-stained tongues slapped about, flicking saliva stringlets through dry fly-ridden heat, toothy-jawed grins allied with shrewdly twinkling eyes.

Like most Australian stud breeders and wool growers, my source inevitably tried turning the discussion against New Zealand graziers and how hard it was to understand what the Kiwis were saying, etc. When he started: “.. had I heard the one about the New Zealand sheep farmer and the … ?” this reporter thought it time to leave.

Emotions run high

Emotions are running high in Australia as the industry shudders from this latest blow that follows low world wool prices, record drought, decline in market preference for wool, and recent blood-letting from a Peta campaign against bloodied crutches.

Spokesfemme for the Dept. of Animal Science, University of New England, (dressed in fine-knitted twin-set, thigh-length Ugh boots, and sporting “Mulz Peta Not Sheep” embroidered across a woollen beanie) confirmed worst fears about the avian onslaught.

Pressed for scientific detail she would only wax disdainful on “the tragedy” and, with bitterness teetering on partisan, bemoaned “the irony of sheep being infected so lethally by the only species considered dumber”.

Even before this, chooks had little to boast” she spat, and repeated the old chestnut “Chooks are a sublime blend of utter stupidity and naked ambition,” adding “At least sheep are NOT ambitious.”

The chicken industry is secretly delighted by the ovine mutation and see avian-ovines a perfect replacement for greatly loathed and despised chooks.

Just a little genetic fiddling and its goodbye Chicken Hilton! No more 24-hour reading lamps, air-conditioning, hormone-enhanced food, those incredible egos, knee-deep chicken shit, and that bloody awful racket and stench,” one plucky fowl industry professional crowed.

Sheep just stand out in the rain and eat grass. I’ll be glad to see the end of those ambitious, feathered bastards!“