Marlene Jahnke

Project: Genetic diversity and evolution of a non-pathogenic calicivirus in wild rabbit populations in Australia

Studies following the arrival of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) on the mainland of Australia showed that the virus caused mortality rates of up to 95% of the investigated rabbit populations (Mutze, Cooke et al. 1998). However, the virus proved to be less effective in some regions of Australia and antibodies against RHDV were found in sera of rabbits that were taken before the introduction of RHDV. These two observations combined led to the hypothesis that a similar benign virus had already been present in Australian wild rabbits giving them partial immunity. This virus was discovered, isolated and its genome was published (Strive, Wright et al. 2009) and termed Rabbit Calicivirus Australia 1 (RCV-A1). Presioimanry sampling in areas where RHDV bio-control is less effective revealed that the virus is widespread.

The benign calicivirus RCV-A1 has the potential to act as an (imperfect) vaccine against RHDV and could have negative effects on rabbit bio-control and therefore biodiversity conservation. My work focuses on the genetic diversity and evolution of RCV-A1. The results provide valuable information for the selection of new RHDV strains that could potentially better overcome evolving genetic resistance and cross-immunoprotection from RCV-A1.


Project details

CRC Program:
Terrestrial Products & Strategies

CSIRO Entomology
University of Konstanz

Dr. Tanja Strive (CSIRO, Canberra)
Prof. Stephen Sarre (Uni Canberra)
Martin Wikelski (Uni Konstanz)

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