Emerging epizootic diseases of amphibians and fish : approaches to understanding Ranavirus emergence and spread



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Ranaviruses are large dsDNA viruses that are considered emerging pathogens, and they are known to cause mortality events in amphibian and fish populations. This research utilizes experimental and genomic data to elucidate the mechanisms driving the evolution and spread of ranaviruses, with a focus on host switching within the genus. In Chapter 1, we utilize virus challenge assays to examine potential transfer of ranaviruses between cultured juvenile largemouth bass (M. salmoides) and bullfrog tadpoles (Rana catesbeiana). Additionally, a commonly used antiparasitic treatment containing malachite green and formalin (MGF) was utilized to suppress the immune system of largemouth bass to assess the susceptibility of immunocompromised fish to ranaviruses. The results indicate that tadpoles are not susceptible to Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV), but that bass are susceptible to ranaviruses isolated from amphibians. Furthermore, immunocompromised fish were more susceptible to both LMBV and FV3 infections than immunocompetent fish. In Chapter 2, we used eight sequenced ranavirus genomes and two selection-detection methods (site-based and branch-based) to identify genes that exhibited signatures of positive selection, potentially due to the selective pressures at play during host switching. We found evidence of positive selection acting on four genes via the site-based method, three of which are newly-acquired genes unique to ranavirus genomes. Our results suggest that the group of newly acquired genes in the ranavirus genome may have undergone recent adaptive changes that have facilitated interspecies and interclass host switching. In Chapter 3, we annotated and analyzed the nearly complete genomic sequence of LMBV to determine its taxonomic classification. The available genomic content and phylogenetic evidence suggests that LMBV is more closely related to amphibian-like ranaviruses (ALRVs) than grouper ranaviruses, and this is further supported by greater genomic collinearity between LMBV and ALRVs. This data suggests that the classification of LMBV as a ranavirus is warranted. The results presented here will help to clarify the taxonomic relationships of ranaviruses, and will also be useful in developing management strategies to limit interspecific and intraspecific viral spread. The information garnered from this research will have far-reaching implications in studies of amphibian conservation, disease evolution, and virology.