Fowlpox virus (FWPV), the type species of the genus Avipoxvirus family Poxviridae, is a large double-stranded DNA virus that causes fowlpox in chickens and turkeys. Notably, sequences of the avian retrovirus reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV) are frequently found integrated into the genome of FWPV. While some FWPV strains carry remnants of the REV long terminal repeats (LTRs), other strains have been shown to contain insertions of nearly the full-length REV provirus in their genome. In the present study we detected heterogeneous FWPV populations carrying the REV LTR or the near full-length REV provirus genome in a Merriam's wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami). The bird presented papules distributed throughout the non-feathered areas of the head. Avipoxvirus-like virions were observed in the lesions by transmission electron microscopy and the presence of FWPV was confirmed by DNA sequencing. Metagenomic sequencing performed on nucleic acid extracted from the skin lesions revealed two FWPV genome populations carrying either a 197-nt remnant of the REV LTR or a 7939-nt long fragment corresponding to the full-length REV provirus. Notably, PCR amplification using primers targeting FWPV sequences flanking the REV insertion site, confirmed the natural occurrence of the heterogeneous FWPV genome populations in one additional clinical sample from another turkey affected by fowlpox. Additionally, sequencing of a historical FWPV isolate obtained from chickens in the US in 2000 also revealed the presence of the two FWPV-REV genome populations. Results here demonstrate distinct FWPV populations containing variable segments of REV genome integrated into their genome. These distinct genome populations are likely a result of homologous recombination events that take place during FWPV replication.
Keywords: FWPV; REV; Recombination; Turkey.
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