Analysis of Genetic Diversity and Evolution through Recombination of Beak and Feather Disease Virus
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Beak and feather disease virus (BFDV), a non-enveloped, icosahedral virus with a circular single stranded DNA (ssDNA) genome, is the causative agent behind psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD), an often fatal disease affecting parrots. Symptoms include feathering abnormalities, loss of feathers, and occasionally beak and claw deformities. BFDV-induced immunosuppression results in an increased susceptibility to secondary microbial infections, which is often the cause of death in infected parrots. There is no cure, no effective treatment, and no protective vaccine for BFDV. The international trade in exotic parrots has facilitated the spread of BFDV, so that it now has a global presence. Given that over a quarter of the currently recognised 356 psittacine species are considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild, the worldwide presence of BFDV, coupled with its extreme environmental stability, poses serious concerns for the future of some of the worlds most endangered parrots. That genetic diversity exists among BFDV isolates has been established, yet in the 14 years since the genome was fully sequenced, very few full-length BFDV genome sequences have been deposited in GenBank, despite the technology to rapidly isolate and amplify entire circular ssDNA genomes being readily available. Most studies have sequenced just a portion of the genome, usually one of the open reading frames (ORFs) encoding the major viral proteins, to investigate phylogenetic relationships between isolates. However the two major BFDV ORFs, encoding the replication associated protein (Rep) and the capsid protein (CP), have been shown to evolve at different rates, with the functional Rep being generally more conserved while CP is more variable. When also considering the fact that ssDNA viruses are notoriously recombinant, it becomes clear that an analysis based on a portion of the genome is unlikely to accurately establish evolutionary relationships. Therefore the focus of the studies described in this thesis was on isolation and amplification of full-length BFDV genomes from avian blood and feather samples that first tested positive to a PCR-based BFDV screening method. Samples were collected by appropriately trained people in New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Poland, before being sent to the University of Canterbury for molecular and bioinformatic analysis. The sequences of the BFDV genomes from each region were compared to each other and to all other full BFDV genome sequences publically available in GenBank, to compare the genetic diversity among these isolates. Recombination analyses were also performed, to assess how recombination is impacting on the evolution of BFDV.
New strains of BFDV and new subtypes of existing BFDV strains were discovered, indicating that the global genetic diversity may be greater than previously thought. Many strains also proved to be recombinants, in particular those from Poland. Europe has had a long history with importing and breeding exotic parrots, and the high degree of recombination among the Polish BFDV isolates coupled with the number of previously unsampled strains is an example of how maintaining populations of multiple species in captivity enables evolution through recombination, and emergence of novel viral strains. Full genome analyses can also enable tracking the source of an infection. A total of 78 full genome sequences from 487 samples tested were deposited into GenBank as a direct result of the work undertaken as part of this thesis, thereby adding to the existing knowledge base regarding BFDV. With continued global sampling and full genome analysis it may one day be possible to trace the history of BFDV to its original emergence.