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Global genetic diversity of small ruminant lentiviruses, and a hypothesis regarding their pandemic spread.

By Maria-Luisa Carrozza, Anna-Maria Niewiadomska, Mazzei Maurizio, Mounir R. Abi-Said, Stephane Hue, Joshua B Singer, Joseph Hughes, Robert Gifford

Posted 30 May 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/236117

Small ruminant lentiviruses (SRLVs) cause chronic, persistent infections in populations of domestic sheep and goats throughout the world. In this study, we use genomic data to investigate the origins and history of the SRLV pandemic. To explore the hypothesis that SRLV infection disseminated during Neolithic times, we performed a serology and DNA sequencing-based investigation of SRLVs diversity in the Fertile Crescent region, where domestication of sheep and goats is thought to have originally occurred. While we found an elevated level of viral genetic diversity compared to other regions of the world, we did not find unambiguous evidence that the Fertile Crescent region was the centre of the contemporary SRLV pandemic. We therefore examined historical reports to investigate the relationship between (i) contemporary SRLV distribution and diversity, (ii) the emergence of SRLV-associated disease, and (iii) the past movement of small ruminant populations. Historical data suggested that the emergence of SRLV-associated disease might be associated with the long-distance export of exotic small ruminant breeds - in particular, karakul sheep from Central Asia - during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Phylogeographic analysis could neither confirm nor refute this hypothesis. However, we anticipate that future accumulation of genomic data from SRLV strains found throughout the world may allow for a more definitive assessment. The openly available data and resources assembled in this study will facilitate such future investigations.

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