Saltwater crocodilepox virus (SwCRV), belonging to the genus Crocodylidpoxvirus, are large DNA viruses posing an economic risk to Australian saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) farms by extending production times. Although poxvirus-like particles and sequences have been confirmed, their infection dynamics, inter-farm genetic variability and evolutionary relationships remain largely unknown. In this study, a poxvirus infection dynamics study was conducted on two C. porosus farms. One farm (Farm 2) showed twice the infection rate, and more concerningly, an increase in the number of early- to late-stage poxvirus lesions as crocodiles approached harvest size, reflecting the extended production periods observed on this farm. To determine if there was a genetic basis for this difference, 14 complete SwCRV genomes were isolated from lesions sourced from five Australian farms. They encompassed all the conserved genes when compared to the two previously reported SwCRV genomes and fell within three major clades. Farm 2's SwCRV sequences were distributed across all three clades, highlighting the likely mode of inter-farm transmission. Twenty-four recombination events were detected, with one recombination event resulting in consistent fragmentation of the P4c gene in the majority of the Farm 2 SwCRV isolates. Further investigation into the evolution of poxvirus infection in farmed crocodiles may offer valuable insights in evolution of this viral family and afford the opportunity to obtain crucial information into natural viral selection processes in an in vivo setting.
Keywords: complete genome; evolution; genetic recombination; infection dynamics; saltwater crocodilepox virus.