Phylogenetic and timescale analysis of Barmah Forest virus as inferred from genome sequence analysis
Viruses, 2020, 12(7), 732. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/v12070732
Barmah Forest virus (BFV) is a medically important mosquito-borne alphavirus endemic to Australia. Symptomatic disease can be a major cause of morbidity, associated with fever, rash, and debilitating arthralgia. BFV disease is similar to that caused by Ross River virus (RRV), the other major Australian alphavirus. Currently, just four BFV whole-genome sequences are available with no genome-scale phylogeny in existence to robustly characterise genetic diversity. Thirty novel genome sequences were derived for this study, for a final 34-taxon dataset sampled over a 44 year period. Three distinct BFV genotypes were characterised (G1–3) that have circulated in Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG). Evidence of spatio-temporal co-circulation of G2 and G3 within regions of Australia was noted, including in the South West region of Western Australia (WA) during the first reported disease outbreaks in the state’s history. Compared with RRV, the BFV population appeared more stable with less frequent emergence of novel lineages. Preliminary in vitro assessment of RRV and BFV replication kinetics found that RRV replicates at a significantly faster rate and to a higher, more persistent titre compared with BFV, perhaps indicating mosquitoes may be infectious with RRV for longer than with BFV. This investigation resolved a greater diversity of BFV, and a greater understanding of the evolutionary dynamics and history was attained.