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Cell. 1979 Jul;17(3):623-34.

The distribution of endogenous chicken retrovirus sequences in the DNA of galliform birds does not coincide with avian phylogenetic relationships.


The chicken is a domesticated form of Red Jungle-fowl (Gallus gallus), which belongs to the Pheasant family (Phasianidae) within the order Galliformes. Domestic chickens carry the genome of the endogenous retrovirus RAV-O as DNA sequences integrated into host chromosomes transmitted through the germ line. We have examined the presence and distribution of RAV-O-related sequences in the DNA of Red Junglefowl and other closely related species of Junglefowl, as well as more distantly related Pheasants and Quail. DNA sequences homologous to RAV-O were analyzed by molecular hybridization in liquid and after electrophoresis of restriction endonuclease fragments. The presence of RAV-O-related sequences in avian DNA does not correlate with phylogenetic relationships. Under stringent conditions of hybridization in liquid, DNA sequences homologous to RAV-O cDNA were detected at high levels (greater than 80% homology( only in the genomes of the domestic chicken and its phylogenetic ancestor, the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus). The DNA of two other species of Gallus (G. sonnerati, Sonnerat's Junglefowl and G. varius, Green Junglefowl), of Ring-necked Pheasant and of Japanese Quail contained sequences with less than 10% homology to RAV-O cDNA. Under conditions permitting mismatching, however, Ring-necked Pheasant DNA hybridized up to 50% of the RAV-O cDNA, and Quail DNA 24%, whereas the extent of hybridization to Sonnerat's and Green Junglefowl DNA was not markedly increased. Analysis of restriction enzyme digests revealed several distinct fragments of DNA hybridizing to chick retrovirus cDNA in both Red Junglefowl and domestic chicken, and multiple fragments in DNA from two species of Phasianus. No fragments with sequences related to chicken retroviruses were found, however, in digests of DNA prepared from Sonnerat's, Ceylonese and Green Junglefowl, from two other Pheasant genera (Chrysolophus and Lophura), or from one Quail genus (Coturnix). Thus the DNA of three Junglefowl species closely related to Gallus gallus lacked RAV-O sequences while the DNA of more distantly related Phasianus species showed significant homology. These results show that RAV-O-related sequences have not diverged together with the normal host genes during the evolution of the Phasianidae. Although RAV-O sequences are endogenous in all domestic chickens and Red Junglefowl studied thus far, it appears that the RAV-O genome has been introduced relatively recently into the germ line of Gallus gallus, following speciation but before domestication, and independently of the related sequences found in members of the genus Phasianus.

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