Thursday, 1 September 2016

Discovery of an ape virus in an Indonesian rodent species

August 26, 2016

The gibbon ape leukemia virus (GALV) is a medically important tool in cancer therapies. GALV is a retrovirus pathogenic to its host species, the southeast Asian lar gibbon (Hylobates lar) and thought to have originated from a cross-species transmission and may not originally be a primate virus at all. An international research team headed by the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) screened a wide range of rodents from southeast Asia for GALV-like sequences. The discovery of a new GALV in the grassland melomys (Melomys burtoni) from Indonesian New Guinea supports the hypothesis that this host species, and potentially related rodent lineages in Australia and Papua New Guinea, may have played a key role in the spread of GALV-like viruses. The findings were published in the scientific journal Journal of Virology.

The scientists found that rodents from Indonesian New Guinea possibly contributed as vectors to a cross-species transmission leading to the infection of gibbons with the gibbon ape leukemia virus (GALV) and koalas with the koala retrovirus (KoRV). GALV is a retrovirus which causes a cancer (hematopoietic neoplasms) in captive colonies of gibbons. However, GALV has never been isolated from wild primates that did not have a captive origin. This suggests that some other species in contact with captive gibbons are the source of GALV. KoRV is a retrovirus closely related to GALV and therefore the two viruses share a common ancestor. Since koalas and gibbons do not overlap in distribution, a direct natural transmission between koalas and gibbons is unlikely. It is therefore probable that one or more mobile and widely distributed host species such as rodents carry GALV- and KoRV-like viruses and infected koalas and gibbons independently. The findings of this study are consistent with this hypothesis.

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