Detection and characterisation of an endogenous betaretrovirus in Australian wild deer.
Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are the remnants of past retroviral infections that once invaded the host's germline and were vertically transmitted. ERV sequences have been reported in mammals, but their distribution and diversity in cervids are unclear. Using next-generation sequencing, we identified a nearly complete genome of an endogenous betaretrovirus in fallow deer (Dama dama). Further genomic analysis showed that this provirus, tentatively named cervid endogenous betaretrovirus 1 (CERV β1), has typical betaretroviral genome features (gag-pro-pol-env) and the betaretrovirus-specific dUTPase domain. In addition, CERV β1 pol sequences were detected by PCR in the six non-native deer species with wild populations in Australia. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that CERV β1 sequences from subfamily Cervinae clustered as sister taxa to ERV-like sequences in species of subfamily Muntiacinae. These findings, therefore, suggest that CERV β1 endogenisation occurred after the split of these two subfamilies (between 3.3 and 5 million years ago). Our results provide important insights into the evolution of betaretroviruses in cervids.