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J Virol. 2008 Apr;82(7):3769-74. doi: 10.1128/JVI.02207-07. Epub 2008 Jan 30.

Phylogenetic evidence against evolutionary stasis and natural abiotic reservoirs of influenza A virus.

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Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Biosciences West, 1041 E. Lowell St., University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


Zhang et al. (G. Zhang, D. Shoham, D. Gilichinsky, S. Davydov, J. D. Castello, and S. O. Rogers, J. Virol. 80:12229-12235, 2006) have claimed to have recovered influenza A virus RNA from Siberian lake ice, postulating that ice might represent an important abiotic reservoir for the persistence and reemergence of this medically important pathogen. A rigorous phylogenetic analysis of these influenza A virus hemagglutinin gene sequences, however, indicates that they originated from a laboratory reference strain derived from the earliest human influenza A virus isolate, WS/33. Contrary to Zhang et al.'s assertions that the Siberian "ice viruses" are most closely related either to avian influenza virus or to human influenza virus strains from Asia from the 1960s (Zhang et al., J. Virol. 81:2538 [erratum], 2007), they are clearly contaminants from the WS/33 positive control used in their laboratory. There is thus no credible evidence that environmental ice acts as a biologically relevant reservoir for influenza viruses. Several additional cases with findings that seem at odds with the biology of influenza virus, including modern-looking avian influenza virus RNA sequences from an archival goose specimen collected in 1917 (T. G. Fanning, R. D. Slemons, A. H. Reid, T. A. Janczewski, J. Dean, and J. K. Taubenberger, J. Virol. 76:7860-7862, 2002), can also be explained by laboratory contamination or other experimental errors. Many putative examples of evolutionary stasis in influenza A virus appear to be due to laboratory artifacts.

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