Researchers have identified a novel virus that could be the source of a severe, sometimes fatal respiratory disease that has been observed in captive ball pythons since the 1990s. The work is published this week in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
Investigators observed the virus, which they named ball python nidovirus, in eight snakes with pneumonia; virus levels were highest in the animals' lungs and other respiratory tract tissues. The team also sequenced the genome of the virus, finding it to be the largest of any RNA virus yet described.
Ball pythons have become one of the most popular types of reptiles sold and kept as pets, the authors said, because of their relatively modest size, docile behavior and ease of care. Respiratory disease has been noted in these animals since the 1990s but until now a potential cause has not been identified, said senior study author Joseph L. DeRisi, PhD, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, in part because of the limitations of available technology.
"This is really exciting because up to this point there have been no known viruses of this type in reptiles," DeRisi said. "Some of the most feared diseases we know of, like Ebola virus, HIV, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), did not arise from people but have been transferred originally from animals. Our work suggests there may be very large reservoirs of genetic diversity of viral families that can cause human disease in under studied organisms, like reptiles. We would do well to look broadly across all species."
DeRisi and colleagues at seven other institutions across the country studied tissue samples from ball pythons with symptoms of respiratory disease from seven collections in Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Autopsies on the animals found lesions in the animals' upper and lower respiratory tracts, and additional lesions in other areas of the body. Using an electron microscope, investigators observed virus-like particles in the cells lining the lungs of two snakes.
To identify a cause of disease, the scientists used a technique called shotgun metagenomics to sequence RNA of eight of the snakes, finding a novel nidovirus in all of them, but not in a search of tissues from 57 other snakes not affected by pneumonia, collected for other studies. Additional work found that the virus was most prevalent in the sick animals' respiratory tract tissue, and that the nidovirus is most similar to a subset of the nidoviruses called toroviruses, which infect mammals and ray-finned fish.
"The identification of a novel nidovirus in reptiles contributes to our understanding of the biology and evolution of related viruses, and its association with lung disease in pythons is a promising step toward elucidating an etiology for this long-standing veterinary disease," DeRisi said. "Our report will enable diagnostics that will assist in determining the role of this virus in the causation of disease, which would allow control of the disease in zoos and private collections."
Yet to be determined, said study coauthor Mark Stenglein, PhD, is how the virus is spread, whether ball pythons are the primary natural host for the virus, and how widespread the virus is in the wild. In a previous study published in mBio in August 2012, DeRisi, Stenglein and colleagues discovered the first reptile arenavirus. The team is continuing work identifying reptilian viruses. "I think it's the tip of the iceberg," DeRisi said. Indeed, within the same month, two additional groups reported identification of a nearly identical virus, in a total of five additional pythons, all with lung disease.
The current study was supported in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence.
mBio® is an open access online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology to make microbiology research broadly accessible. The focus of the journal is on rapid publication of cutting-edge research spanning the entire spectrum of microbiology and related fields. It can be found online at http://mbio.asm.org.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.
Jim Sliwa | Eurek Alert!
Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University
Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Information Technology
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy