Koala Retroviruses: Evolution and Disease Dynamics∗
Wenqin Xu and Maribeth V. Eiden
A retroviral etiology for malignant neoplasias in koalas has long been suspected. Evidence for retroviral involvement was bolstered in 2000 by the isolation of a koala retrovirus (KoRV), now termed KoRV-A. KoRV-A is an endogenous retrovirus—a retrovirus that infects germ cells—a feature that makes it a permanent resident of the koala genome. KoRV-A lacks the genetic diversity of an exogenous retrovirus, a quality associated with the ability of a retrovirus to cause neoplasias. In 2013, a second KoRV isolate, KoRV-B, was obtained from koalas with lymphomas in the Los Angeles Zoo. Unlike KoRV-A, which is present in the genomes of all koalas in the United States, KoRV-B is restricted in its distribution and is associated with host pathology (neoplastic disease). Here, our current understanding of the evolution of endogenous and exogenous KoRVs, and the relationship between them, is reviewed to build a perspective on the future impact of these viruses on koala sustainability.