The evolution of endogenous retroviral envelope genes in bats and their potential contribution to host biology.
Skirmuntt EC., Katzourakis A.
Bats are the primary reservoirs and carriers of a wide range of viruses of unknown infectivity and unknown pathogenic potential. Some of those if transmitted to other species can cause enormous economic losses in agriculture, and mortality in humans. Bats can be persistently infected with viruses while not showing any symptoms of disease, despite having high virus titre levels in their tissues and shedding virions for months or years after primary infection. It has been suggested that the lack of symptoms of viral infections and low mortality rate in bats might be due to immune adaptations that result from their long-term co-evolution with viruses. In this study, we screened all publicly available bat genomes from six bat families within which we have identified several envelope sequences of retroviral origin (gammaretroviruses). We analysed found sequences with Bayesian methods and maximum-likelihood inference to generate a phylogenetic tree with additional reference sequences of known endogenous and exogenous viral envelope genes. We also identified groups of orthologous viral envelopes and analysed them to detect if any of them might be an EVE (endogenous virus element) with an EDI (EVE- derived immunity) function or a candidate for a bat syncytin gene, which is an endogenized viral envelope, mostly known from its function in placentation in animals. Our study shows that bat genomes contain a substantial number of large, intact envelopes in open reading frames, which were found clustering closely on a phylogenetic tree reconstruction with syncytin sequences of other species. That might indicate that such sequences are good candidates for further bat-syncytin/EDI search.