Prevalence of koala retrovirus in geographically diverse populations in Australia
GS Simmons,a* PR Young,b JJ Hanger,c K Jones,a D Clarke,b JJ McKeed and J Meersa
b Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia
c Australian Wildlife Hospital, Beerwah, Queensland, Australia
d Ecosure, West Burleigh, Queensland, Australia
Objective To determine the prevalence of koala retrovirus (KoRV) in selected koala populations and to estimate proviral copy number in a subset of koalas.
Methods Blood or tissue samples from 708 koalas in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were tested for KoRV pol provirus gene using standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR), nested PCR and real-time PCR (qPCR).
Results Prevalence of KoRV provirus-positive koalas was 100% in four regions of Queensland and New South Wales, 72.2% in mainland Victoria, 26.6% on four Victorian islands and 14.8% on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Estimated proviral copy number per cell in four groups of koalas from Queensland and Victoria showed marked variation, ranging from a mean of 165 copies per cell in the Queensland group to 1.29 x 10-4 copies per cell in one group of Victorian koalas.
Conclusions The higher prevalence of KoRV-positive koalas in the north of Australia and high proviral loads in Queensland koalas may indicate KoRV entered and became endogenous in the north and is spreading southwards. It is also possible there are genetic differences between koalas in northern and southern Australia that affect susceptibility to KoRV infection or endogenisation, or that environmental factors affecting transmission in northern states are absent or uncommon in southern regions. Although further studies are required, the finding of proviral copy numbers orders of magnitude lower than what would be expected for the presence of a single copy in every cell for many Victorian animals suggests that KoRV is not endogenous in these animals and likely reflects ongoing exogenous infection.