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J Clin Microbiol. 2012 Sep;50(9):2881-7. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01142-12. Epub 2012 Jun 20.

Field monitoring of avian influenza viruses: whole-genome sequencing and tracking of neuraminidase evolution using 454 pyrosequencing.

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Universite de Toulouse, INP, ENVT, Toulouse, France.


Adaptation of avian influenza viruses (AIVs) from waterfowl to domestic poultry with a deletion in the neuraminidase (NA) stalk has already been reported. The way the virus undergoes this evolution, however, is thus far unclear. We address this question using pyrosequencing of duck and turkey low-pathogenicity AIVs. Ducks and turkeys were sampled at the very beginning of an H6N1 outbreak, and turkeys were swabbed again 8 days later. NA stalk deletions were evidenced in turkeys by Sanger sequencing. To further investigate viral evolution, 454 pyrosequencing was performed: for each set of samples, up to 41,500 reads of ca. 400 bp were generated and aligned. Genetic polymorphisms between duck and turkey viruses were tracked on the whole genome. NA deletion was detected in less than 2% of reads in duck feces but in 100% of reads in turkey tracheal specimens collected at the same time. Further variations in length were observed in NA from turkeys 8 days later. Similarly, minority mutants emerged on the hemagglutinin (HA) gene, with substitutions mostly in the receptor binding site on the globular head. These critical changes suggest a strong evolutionary pressure in turkeys. The increasing performances of next-generation sequencing technologies should enable us to monitor the genomic diversity of avian influenza viruses and early emergence of potentially pathogenic variants within bird flocks. The present study, based on 454 pyrosequencing, suggests that NA deletion, an example of AIV adaptation from waterfowl to domestic poultry, occurs by selection rather than de novo emergence of viral mutants.

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