The evolutionary genetics and emergence of avian influenza viruses in wild birds

PLoS Pathog. 2008 May 30;4(5):e1000076. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000076.


We surveyed the genetic diversity among avian influenza virus (AIV) in wild birds, comprising 167 complete viral genomes from 14 bird species sampled in four locations across the United States. These isolates represented 29 type A influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) subtype combinations, with up to 26% of isolates showing evidence of mixed subtype infection. Through a phylogenetic analysis of the largest data set of AIV genomes compiled to date, we were able to document a remarkably high rate of genome reassortment, with no clear pattern of gene segment association and occasional inter-hemisphere gene segment migration and reassortment. From this, we propose that AIV in wild birds forms transient "genome constellations," continually reshuffled by reassortment, in contrast to the spread of a limited number of stable genome constellations that characterizes the evolution of mammalian-adapted influenza A viruses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Birds / virology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Hemagglutinins, Viral / genetics
  • Influenza A virus / enzymology
  • Influenza A virus / genetics*
  • Influenza A virus / pathogenicity
  • Influenza in Birds / genetics*
  • Influenza in Birds / immunology
  • Neuraminidase / genetics
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Phylogeny
  • Reassortant Viruses / genetics*
  • United States


  • DNA, Viral
  • Hemagglutinins, Viral
  • Neuraminidase