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Emergence of a Novel Pathogenic Poxvirus Infection in the Endangered Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) Highlights a Key Threatening Process

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posted on 14.04.2021, 06:26 authored by Subir SarkerSubir Sarker, H Bielefeldt-Ohmann, Athukorala Vidanalage Ajani Priyadarshan AthukoralaAthukorala Vidanalage Ajani Priyadarshan Athukorala, C Hannon
Emerging viral disease is a significant concern, with potential consequences for human, animal and environmental health. Over the past several decades, multiple novel viruses have been found in wildlife species, including reptiles, and often pose a major threat to vulnerable species. However, whilst a large number of viruses have been described in turtles, information on poxvirus in cheloniids remains scarce, with no molecular sequence data available to date. This study characterizes, for the first time, a novel poxvirus, here tentatively designated cheloniid poxvirus 1 (ChePV-1). The affected cutaneous tissue, recovered from a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) captured off the Central Queensland coast of Australia, underwent histological examination, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), DNA extraction and genomic sequencing. The novel ChePV-1 was shown to be significantly divergent from other known poxviruses and showed the highest sequence similarity (89.3%) to avipoxviruses (shearwater poxvirus 2 (SWPV2)). This suggests the novel ChePV-1 may have originated from a common ancestor that diverged from an avipoxvirus-like progenitor. The genome contained three predicted unique genes and a further 15 genes being truncated/fragmented compared to SWPV2. This is the first comprehensive study that demonstrates evidence of poxvirus infection in a marine turtle species, as well as a rare example of an avipoxvirus crossing the avian-host barrier. This finding warrants further investigations into poxvirus infections between species in close physical proximity, as well as in vitro and in vivo studies of pathogenesis and disease.


This research was funded in part by Shell's QGC Business, Australia Pacific LNG and Santos GLNG.


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