Viruses on the wing: evolution and dynamics of influenza A virus in the Mallard reservoir

University dissertation from Växjö : Linnaeus University Press

Abstract: This thesis explores the evolution of avian influenza A viruses (IAV), as well as host-pathogen interactions between these viruses and their main reservoir host, the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). IAV is a genetically diverse, multi-host virus and wild birds, particularly dabbling ducks, are the natural reservoir. At our study site, up to 30% of migratory Mallards are infected with IAV during an autumn season, and host a large number of virus subtypes. IAV diversity is driven by two main mechanisms: mutation, driving genetic drift; and reassortment following co-infection, resulting in genetic shift. Reassortment is pervasive within an autumn season, both across multiple subtypes and within a single subtype. It is a key genetic feature in long-term maintenance of common subtypes, as it allows for independent lineage turn-over, generating novel genetic constellations. I hypothesize that the decoupling of successful constellations and generation of novel annual constellations enables viruses to escape herd immunity; these genetic changes must confer antigenic change for the process to be favourable. Indeed, in an experiment utilizing vaccines, circulating viruses escaped homosubtypic immunity, resulting in the proliferation of infections with the same subtype as the vaccine. While the host plays an important role in shaping IAV evolutionary genetics, one must consider that Mallards are infected with a multitude of other microorganisms. Here, Mallards were infected with IAV, gamma coronaviruses, and avian paramyxovirus type 1 simultaneously, and we found a putative synergistic interaction between IAV and gamma coronaviruses. Mallards occupy the interface between humans, poultry, and wild birds, and are the reservoir of IAV diversity. New incursions of highly pathogenic H5 viruses to both Europe and North America reaffirms the role of wild birds, particularly waterfowl, in diffusion of viruses spatially. Using European low pathogenic viruses and Mallard model, this thesis contributes to aspects of epidemiology, ecology, and evolutionary dynamics of waterfowl viruses, particularly IAV