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Identification and characterisation of endogenous Avian Leukosis Virus subgroup E (ALVE) insertions in chicken whole genome sequencing data

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    Rights statement: he Author(s). 2020 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder ...

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22
JournalMobile DNA
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020


Background: Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are the remnants of retroviral infections which can elicit prolonged genomic and immunological stress on their host organism. In chickens, endogenous Avian Leukosis Virus subgroup E (ALVE) expression has been associated with reductions in muscle growth rate and egg production, as well as providing the potential for novel recombinant viruses. However, ALVEs can remain in commercial stock due to their incomplete identification and association with desirable traits, such as ALVE21 and slow feathering. The availability of whole genome sequencing (WGS) data facilitates high-throughput identification and characterisation of these retroviral remnants.

Results: We have developed obsERVer, a new bioinformatic ERV identification pipeline which can identify ALVEs in WGS data without further sequencing. With this pipeline, 20 ALVEs were identified across eight elite layer lines from Hy-Line International, including four novel integrations and characterisation of a fast feathered phenotypic revertant that still contained ALVE21. These bioinformatically detected sites were subsequently validated using new high-throughput KASP assays, which showed that obsERVer was highly precise and exhibited a 0% false discovery rate. A further fifty-seven diverse chicken WGS datasets were analysed for their ALVE content, identifying a total of 322 integration sites, over 80% of which were novel. Like exogenous ALV, ALVEs show site preference for proximity to protein-coding genes, but also exhibit signs of selection against deleterious integrations within genes.

Conclusions: obsERVer is a highly precise and broadly applicable pipeline for identifying retroviral integrations in WGS data. ALVE identification in commercial layers has aided development of high-throughput diagnostic assays which will aid ALVE management, with the aim to eventually eradicate ALVEs from high performance lines. Analysis of non-commercial chicken datasets with obsERVer has revealed broad ALVE diversity and facilitates the study of the biological effects of these ERVs in wild and domesticated populations.

    Research areas

  • ALVE, Ev gene, Avian Leukosis virus, Endogenous retrovirus, obsERVer, Chicken

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