Virulent strains of Newcastle disease virus (NDV) cause Newcastle disease (ND), a devastating disease of poultry and wild birds. Phylogenetic analyses clearly distinguish historical isolates (obtained prior to 1960) from currently circulating viruses of class II genotypes V, VI, VII, and XII through XVIII. Here, partial and complete genomic sequences of recent virulent isolates of genotypes II and IX from China, Egypt, and India were found to be nearly identical to those of historical viruses isolated in the 1940s. Phylogenetic analysis, nucleotide distances, and rates of change demonstrate that these recent isolates have not evolved significantly from the most closely related ancestors from the 1940s. The low rates of change for these virulent viruses (7.05 × 10(-5) and 2.05 × 10(-5) per year, respectively) and the minimal genetic distances existing between these and historical viruses (0.3 to 1.2%) of the same genotypes indicate an unnatural origin. As with any other RNA virus, Newcastle disease virus is expected to evolve naturally; thus, these findings suggest that some recent field isolates should be excluded from evolutionary studies. Furthermore, phylogenetic analyses show that these recent virulent isolates are more closely related to virulent strains isolated during the 1940s, which have been and continue to be used in laboratory and experimental challenge studies. Since the preservation of viable viruses in the environment for over 6 decades is highly unlikely, it is possible that the source of some of the recent virulent viruses isolated from poultry and wild birds might be laboratory viruses.
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