Molecular evolution and emergence of avian gammacoronaviruses.


Coronaviruses, which are single stranded, positive sense RNA viruses, are responsible for a wide variety of existing and emerging diseases in humans and other animals. The gammacoronaviruses primarily infect avian hosts. Within this genus of coronaviruses, the avian coronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) causes a highly infectious upper-respiratory tract disease in commercial poultry. IBV shows rapid evolution in chickens, frequently producing new antigenic types, which adds to the multiple serotypes of the virus that do not cross protect. Rapid evolution in IBV is facilitated by strong selection, large population sizes and high genetic diversity within hosts, and transmission bottlenecks between hosts. Genetic diversity within a host arises primarily by mutation, which includes substitutions, insertions and deletions. Mutations are caused both by the high error rate, and limited proof reading capability, of the viral RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase, and by recombination. Recombination also generates new haplotype diversity by recombining existing variants. Rapid evolution of avian coronavirus IBV makes this virus extremely difficult to diagnose and control, but also makes it an excellent model system to study viral genetic diversity and the mechanisms behind the emergence of coronaviruses in their natural host.

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