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Vet Microbiol. 2000 May 22;74(1-2):15-27.

Evolution of avian influenza viruses.

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Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, 934 College Station Road, Athens, GA 30605, USA.


Although influenza viruses can infect a wide variety of birds and mammals, the natural host of the virus is wild waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls. When other species of animals, including chickens, turkeys, swine, horses, and humans, are infected with influenza viruses, they are considered aberrant hosts. The distinction between the normal and aberrant host is important when describing virus evolution in the different host groups. The evolutionary rate of influenza virus in the natural host reservoirs is believed to be slow, while in mammals the rate is much higher. The higher rate of evolution in mammals is thought to be a result of selective pressure on the virus to adapt to an aberrant host species. Chickens and turkey influenza virus isolates have previously and incorrectly been lumped together with wild waterfowl, gull, and shorebird influenza viruses when determining rates of evolutionary change. To determine mutational and evolutionary rates of a virus in any host species, two primary assumptions must be met: first, all isolates included in the analysis must have descended from a single introduction of the virus, and second, the outbreak must continue long enough to determine a trend. For poultry, three recent outbreaks of avian influenza meet these criteria, and the sequences of the hemagglutinin and nonstructural genes were compared. Sequences from all three outbreaks were compared to an avian influenza virus consensus sequence, which at the amino acid level is highly conserved for all the internal viral proteins. The consensus sequence also provides a common point of origin to compare all influenza viruses. The evolutionary rates determined for all three outbreaks were similar to what is observed in mammals, providing strong evidence of adaptation of influenza to the new host species, chickens and turkeys.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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