Identification of a novel nidovirus as a potential cause of large scale mortalities in the endangered Bellinger River snapping turtle (Myuchelys georgesi)

Thumbnail Image
File version

Version of Record (VoR)

Zhang, Jing
Finlaison, Deborah S
Frost, Melinda J
Gestier, Sarah
Gu, Xingnian
Hall, Jane
Jenkins, Cheryl
Parrish, Kate
Read, Andrew J
Srivastava, Mukesh
Rose, Karrie
Kirkland, Peter D
Griffith University Author(s)
Primary Supervisor
Other Supervisors
File type(s)

In mid-February 2015, a large number of deaths were observed in the sole extant population of an endangered species of freshwater snapping turtle, Myuchelys georgesi, in a coastal river in New South Wales, Australia. Mortalities continued for approximately 7 weeks and affected mostly adult animals. More than 400 dead or dying animals were observed and population surveys conducted after the outbreak had ceased indicated that only a very small proportion of the population had survived, severely threatening the viability of the wild population. At necropsy, animals were in poor body condition, had bilateral swollen eyelids and some animals had tan foci on the skin of the ventral thighs. Histological examination revealed peri-orbital, splenic and nephric inflammation and necrosis. A virus was isolated in cell culture from a range of tissues. Nucleic acid sequencing of the virus isolate has identified the entire genome and indicates that this is a novel nidovirus that has a low level of nucleotide similarity to recognised nidoviruses. Its closest relatives are nidoviruses that have recently been described in pythons and lizards, usually in association with respiratory disease. In contrast, in the affected turtles, the most significant pathological changes were in the kidneys. Real time PCR assays developed to detect this virus demonstrated very high virus loads in affected tissues. In situ hybridisation studies confirmed the presence of viral nucleic acid in tissues in association with pathological changes. Collectively these data suggest that this virus is the likely cause of the mortalities that now threaten the survival of this species. Bellinger River Virus is the name proposed for this new virus.

Journal Title

PLoS One

Conference Title
Book Title




Thesis Type
Degree Program
Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement

© 2018 Zhang et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Item Access Status
Access the data
Related item(s)

Veterinary virology

Science & Technology

Multidisciplinary Sciences

Science & Technology - Other Topics



Persistent link to this record

Zhang, J; Finlaison, DS; Frost, MJ; Gestier, S; Gu, X; Hall, J; Jenkins, C; Parrish, K; Read, AJ; Srivastava, M; Rose, K; Kirkland, PD, Identification of a novel nidovirus as a potential cause of large scale mortalities in the endangered Bellinger River snapping turtle (Myuchelys georgesi), PLoS One, 2018, 13 (10), pp. e0205209