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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evolutionary maintenance of filovirus-like genes in bat genomes

Derek J Taylor*, Katharina Dittmar, Matthew J Ballinger and Jeremy A Bruenn

Author affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, The State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:336  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-336

Published: 17 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Little is known of the biological significance and evolutionary maintenance of integrated non-retroviral RNA virus genes in eukaryotic host genomes. Here, we isolated novel filovirus-like genes from bat genomes and tested for evolutionary maintenance. We also estimated the age of filovirus VP35-like gene integrations and tested the phylogenetic hypotheses that there is a eutherian mammal clade and a marsupial/ebolavirus/Marburgvirus dichotomy for filoviruses.

Results

We detected homologous copies of VP35-like and NP-like gene integrations in both Old World and New World species of Myotis (bats). We also detected previously unknown VP35-like genes in rodents that are positionally homologous. Comprehensive phylogenetic estimates for filovirus NP-like and VP35-like loci support two main clades with a marsupial and a rodent grouping within the ebolavirus/Lloviu virus/Marburgvirus clade. The concordance of VP35-like, NP-like and mitochondrial gene trees with the expected species tree supports the notion that the copies we examined are orthologs that predate the global spread and radiation of the genus Myotis. Parametric simulations were consistent with selective maintenance for the open reading frame (ORF) of VP35-like genes in Myotis. The ORF of the filovirus-like VP35 gene has been maintained in bat genomes for an estimated 13. 4 MY. ORFs were disrupted for the NP-like genes in Myotis. Likelihood ratio tests revealed that a model that accommodates positive selection is a significantly better fit to the data than a model that does not allow for positive selection for VP35-like sequences. Moreover, site-by-site analysis of selection using two methods indicated at least 25 sites in the VP35-like alignment are under positive selection in Myotis.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that filovirus-like elements have significance beyond genomic imprints of prior infection. That is, there appears to be, or have been, functionally maintained copies of such genes in mammals. "Living fossils" of filoviruses appear to be selectively maintained in a diverse mammalian genus (Myotis).