Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Zoos exonerated in baby elephant deaths; Data support new branch of herpesvirus family

09.10.2014

Elephants are among the most intelligent non-humans, arguably on par with chimps, but both African and Asian elephants—separate species—are endangered.

In 1995, 16-month old Kumari, the first Asian elephant born at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, died of a then-mysterious illness. In 1999, Gary Hayward of Johns Hopkins University and collaborators published their results identifying a novel herpesvirus, EEHV1 as the cause of Kumari's sudden death.


Kumari, an Asian elephant at the National Zoo, died suddenly at 16 months of EEHV.

Credit: Jessie Cohen, Smithsonian's National Zoo

They now show that severe cases like this one are caused by viruses that normally infect the species, rather than by viruses that have jumped from African elephants, which was their original hypothesis. Hayward's latest research appears ahead of print in two concurrently published papers in the Journal of Virology.

At the time of Kumari's death, anti-zoo activists seized on the situation to call for abandoning all efforts to breed Asian elephants in zoos, as they claimed that zoos were spreading the deadly herpesvirus, says Hayward. Contrary to that, in the current research, "We showed that whereas some identical herpesvirus strains infected both healthy and diseased animals concurrently at particular facilities, the majority were different strains, and there has not been a single proven case of the same strain occurring at any two different facilities," says Hayward.

"Therefore, the viruses have not spread between zoos, and the sources of the viruses were most likely wild-born elephant herdmates. In fact, we also found the same disease in several Asian range countries, including in orphans and wild calves, and showed that the EEHV1 strains in India displayed the same genetic diversity as those in Western zoos."

The papers also provide substantial data to support the hypothesis that the EEHV collectively represent a new, fourth major branch of the herpesvirus family, the proposed deltaherpesvirus subfamily (Deltaherpesvirinae), says Philip Pellett of Wayne State University, Detroit, who wrote an invited Commentary which accompanied Hayward's papers. "Given that the three other branches were recognized over 30 years ago, establishment of a new subfamily would a big deal."

Pellett adds that "Further scientific significance arises from the discovery of 12 new herpesviruses and identification of some new wrinkles in our understanding of herpesvirus diversity and evolution."

In these studies, the investigators performed extensive DNA fingerprinting of the genetic signatures of all the known EEHV cases, as well as samples of EEHV virus that were obtained from wild Asian and African elephants, says Hayward. In the process, they identified seven different species of EEHVs and multiple different chimeric subtypes and strains of each.

"Because these viruses cannot be grown in cell culture, we had to develop sensitive and specific PCR techniques to be able to identify and compare the sequences of multiple segments of many different types of EEHV genomes directly from pathological blood and tissue DNA samples," says Hayward.

"Later, by also examining benign lung nodules from culled wild African elephants, we determined that EEHV2, EEHV3, EEHV6, and EEHV7 are natural endogenous viruses of African elephants, whereas EEHV1A, EEHV1B, EEHV4, and EEHV5 are apparently natural and nearly ubiquitous infections of Asian elephants that are occasionally shed in trunk washes and saliva of most healthy asymptomatic adult animals."

Hayward notes that only one example of a lethal cross-species infection with EEHV3 into an Asian elephant calf has been observed, and that the viruses causing disease normally do so only in their natural hosts.

Close monitoring of Asian elephant calves in zoos has so far enabled life-saving treatment for at least nine infected Asian calves, says Hayward, suggesting that such monitoring may ultimately enable determining why some animals become susceptible to severe disease after their primary EEHV1 infections, while most do not. "About 20% of all Asian elephant calves are susceptible to hemorrhagic disease, whereas symptomatic disease is extremely rare in African elephant calves under the same zoo conditions," says Hayward.

In another paper in the same issue of Journal of Virology, Hayward et al. demonstrate that the many highly diverged species and subtypes of EEHVs are ancient viruses that evolved separately from all other known subfamilies of mammalian herpesviruses within the ancestor of modern elephants, beginning about 100 million years ago.

Philip Pellett, of Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, praises both of Hayward's studies in this issue of the Journal of Virology: "The information gained in the new EEHV papers will be important for developing diagnostic tools for these viruses, and for developing therapeutic approaches to diseases caused by EEHV."

Elephant populations have been plummeting. African elephants declined roughly from 10 million to half a million during the 20th century, due largely to habitat destruction, and intense poaching has since further decimated their numbers. Asian elephants, once in the millions, now number less than 50,000. They are threatened mostly by habitat fragmentation. Poaching is not an issue since they lack tusks.

###

The full papers will appear in the December issue of the Journal of Virology.

Journal of Virology is a publication of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The ASM is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. Its 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.

Garth Hogan | Eurek Alert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>