The spreading global sea turtle fibropapillomatosis (FP) epizootic is threatening some of Earth’s ancient reptiles, adding to the plethora of threats faced by these keystone species. Understanding this neoplastic disease, and its likely aetiological pathogen, chelonid alphaherpesvirus 5 (ChHV5), is crucial to understand how the disease impacts sea turtle populations and species and the future trajectory of disease incidence. We generated 20 ChHV5 genomes, from three sea turtle species, to better understand the viral variant diversity and gene evolution of this oncogenic virus. We revealed previously underappreciated genetic diversity within this virus (with an average of 2,035 single nucleotide polymorphisms [SNPs], 1.54% of the ChHV5 genome) and identified genes under the strongest evolutionary pressure. Furthermore, we investigated the phylogeny of ChHV5 at both genome and gene level, confirming the propensity of the virus to be interspecific with related variants able to infect multiple sea turtle species. Finally, we revealed unexpected intra-host diversity, with up to 0.15% of the viral genome varying between ChHV5 genomes isolated from different tumours concurrently arising within the same individual. These findings offer important insights into ChHV5 biology and provide genomic resources for this oncogenic virus.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.