Avian Phylogenomics Project

Endogenous virus elements


Jie Cui, Wei Zhao, Zhiyong Huang, Erich D. Jarvis, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Peter J. Walker, Edward C. Holmes, and Guojie Zhang, 'Low Frequency of Paleoviral Infiltration across the Avian Phylogeny', Genome Biology (2014).


Mammalian genomes commonly harbor endogenous viral elements. Due to a lack of comparable genome-scale sequence data, far less is known about endogenous viral elements in avian species, even though their small genomes may enable important insights into the patterns and processes of endogenous viral element evolution.
Through a systematic screening of the genomes of 48 species sampled across the avian phylogeny we reveal that birds harbor a limited number of endogenous viral elements compared to mammals, with only five viral families observed: Retroviridae, Hepadnaviridae, Bornaviridae, Circoviridae, and Parvoviridae. Strikingly, only members of the Retroviridae were observed in three nonavian reptile species used as a comparison. All nonretroviral endogenous viral elements are present at low copy numbers and in few species, with only endogenous hepadnaviruses widely distributed, although these have been purged in some cases. We also provide the first evidence for endogenous bornaviruses and circoviruses in avian genomes, although at very low copy numbers. A comparative analysis of vertebrate genomes revealed a simple linear relationship between endogenous viral element abundance and host genome size, such that the occurrence of endogenous viral elements in bird genomes is 6-13 fold less frequent than in mammals.
These results reveal that avian genomes harbor relatively small numbers of endogenous viruses, particularly those derived from RNA viruses, and hence are either less susceptible to viral invasions or purge them more effectively.

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