Koala retrovirus in Northern Australia shows a mixture of stable endogenization and exogenous lineage diversification within fragmented koala populations
journal contributionposted on 21.06.2022, 01:16 authored by Bonnie L Quigley, Alistair MelzerAlistair Melzer, William Ellis, Galit Tzipori, Karen Nilsson, Olusola Olagoke, Amy Robbins, Jonathan Hanger, Peter Timms
The koala population in northern Australia has become increasingly fragmented due to natural and human-made barriers and interventions. This situation has created a unique opportunity to study both endogenous and exogenous koala retrovirus (KoRV). To determine the impact that population isolation has had on KoRV diversity in Queensland, 272 koalas from six fragmented koala populations were profiled for their KoRV provirus across two natural biogeographical barriers (the St. Lawrence Gap and the Brisbane Valley Barrier), one humans-made geographical barrier (the city of Brisbane), and two translocation events (the single movement of koalas to an island and the repeated movement of koalas into a koala sanctuary). Analysis revealed that all koalas tested were KoRV-A positive, with 90 to 96% of the detected KoRV provirus from each koala representing a single, likely endogenous, KoRV-A strain. The next most abundant proviral sequence was a defective variant of the dominant KoRV-A strain, accounting for 3 to 10% of detected provirus. The remaining KoRV provirus represented expected exogenous strains of KoRV and included geographically localized patterns of KoRV-B, -C, -D, -F, -G, and -I. These results indicate that lineage diversification of exogenous KoRV is actively ongoing. In addition, comparison of KoRV provirus within known dam-sire-joey family groups from the koala sanctuary revealed that joeys consistently had KoRV proviral patterns more similar to their dams than their sires in KoRV-B, -C, and -D provirus composition. Collectively, this study highlights both the consistency of endogenous KoRV and the diversity of exogenous KoRV across the fragmented koala populations in northern Australia. IMPORTANCE KoRV infection has become a permanent part of koalas in northern Australia. With KoRV presence and abundance linked to more severe chlamydial disease and neoplasia in these koalas, understanding how KoRV exists throughout an increasingly fragmented koala population is a key first step in designing conservation and management strategies. This survey of KoRV provirus in Queensland koalas indicates that endogenous KoRV provirus is ubiquitous and consistent throughout the state, while exogenous KoRV provirus is diverse and distinct in fragmented koala populations. Understanding the prevalence and impact of both endogenous and exogenous KoRV will be needed to ensure a future for all koala populations.