Experimental evidence of recombination in coronavirus infectious bronchitis virus

Embryonated eggs were coinfected with two strains of the coronavirus avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), IBV-Beaudette and IBV-M41, to investigate whether recombination between the two strains would occur. Virions were isolated from the allantoic fluid of the coinfected eggs and putative hybrid RNAs were detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), using strain-specific oligonucleotides. PCR products, of the expected sizes, were obtained as predicted from potential recombination events between the nucleoprotein (N) gene and the 3'-untranslated region of the two IBV genomes. Sequencing confirmed that they corresponded to hybrid RNAs. Virus produced as a result of the mixed infection was treated with an M41-specific neutralizing monoclonal antibody and passaged in Vero cells, in which IBV-Beaudette, but not IBV-M41, replicated. Hybrid RNA was still detectable after three serial passages. Since no IBV-M41 was detectable this confirmed that infectious recombinant genomes had been produced in the embryonated eggs. These findings not only support the circumstantial evidence, from sequencing studies of IBV field strains, that recombination occurs during replication of IBV and contributes to the diversity of IBV, but also show that coronavirus RNA recombination is not limited to mouse hepatitis virus.

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