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The pronounced growth in livestock populations since the 1950s has altered the epidemiological and evolutionary trajectory of their associated pathogens. For example, Marek's disease virus (MDV), which causes lymphoid tumors in chickens, has experienced a marked increase in virulence over the past century. Today, MDV infections kill >90% of unvaccinated birds, and controlling it costs more than US$1 billion annually. By sequencing MDV genomes derived from archeological chickens, we demonstrate that it has been circulating for at least 1000 years. We functionally tested the Meq oncogene, one of 49 viral genes positively selected in modern strains, demonstrating that ancient MDV was likely incapable of driving tumor formation. Our results demonstrate the power of ancient DNA approaches to trace the molecular basis of virulence in economically relevant pathogens.

Original publication

DOI

10.1126/science.adg2238

Type

Journal article

Journal

Science

Publication Date

15/12/2023

Volume

382

Pages

1276 - 1281