Discovery and Partial Genomic Characterisation of a Novel Nidovirus Associated with Respiratory Disease in Wild Shingleback Lizards (Tiliqua rugosa)

PLoS One. 2016 Nov 9;11(11):e0165209. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165209. eCollection 2016.


A respiratory disease syndrome has been observed in large numbers of wild shingleback lizards (Tiliqua rugosa) admitted to wildlife care facilities in the Perth metropolitan region of Western Australia. Mortality rates are reportedly high without supportive treatment and care. Here we used next generation sequencing techniques to screen affected and unaffected individuals admitted to Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Perth between April and December 2015, with the resultant discovery of a novel nidovirus significantly associated with cases of respiratory disease according to a case definition based on clinical signs. Interestingly this virus was also found in 12% of apparently healthy individuals, which may reflect testing during the incubation period or a carrier status, or it may be that this agent is not causative in the disease process. This is the first report of a nidovirus in lizards globally. In addition to detection of this virus, characterisation of a 23,832 nt segment of the viral genome revealed the presence of characteristic nidoviral genomic elements providing phylogenetic support for the inclusion of this virus in a novel genus alongside Ball Python nidovirus, within the Torovirinae sub-family of the Coronaviridae. This study highlights the importance of next generation sequencing technologies to detect and describe emerging infectious diseases in wildlife species, as well as the importance of rehabilitation centres to enhance early detection mechanisms through passive and targeted health surveillance. Further development of diagnostic tools from these findings will aid in detection and control of this agent across Australia, and potentially in wild lizard populations globally.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / virology
  • Genome, Viral / genetics
  • Genomics / methods
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Lizards / virology*
  • Nidovirales / classification
  • Nidovirales / genetics
  • Nidovirales / physiology*
  • Nidovirales Infections / diagnosis
  • Nidovirales Infections / virology*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / virology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Western Australia


  • RNA, Viral

Grant support

This work was supported using funds provided by the Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, and through the National Significant Disease Investigation Program, managed by Animal Health Australia with assistance from Wildlife Health Australia and DAFWA.