Identification of African Elephant Polyomavirus in wild elephants and the creation of a vector expressing its viral tumor antigens to transform elephant primary cells.
Wild elephant populations are declining rapidly due to rampant killing for ivory and body parts, range fragmentation, and human-elephant conflict. Wild and captive elephants are further impacted by viruses, including highly pathogenic elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses. Moreover, while the rich genetic diversity of the ancient elephant lineage is disappearing, elephants, with their low incidence of cancer, have emerged as a surprising resource in human cancer research for understanding the intrinsic cellular response to DNA damage. However, studies on cellular resistance to transformation and herpesvirus reproduction have been severely limited, in part due to the lack of established elephant cell lines to enable in vitro experiments. This report describes creation of a recombinant plasmid, pAelPyV-1-Tag, derived from a wild isolate of African Elephant Polyomavirus (AelPyV-1), that can be used to create immortalized lines of elephant cells. This isolate was extracted from a trunk nodule biopsy isolated from a wild African elephant, Loxodonta africana, in Botswana. The AelPyV-1 genome contains open-reading frames encoding the canonical large (LTag) and small (STag) tumor antigens. We cloned the entire early region spanning the LTag and overlapping STag genes from this isolate into a high-copy vector to construct a recombinant plasmid, pAelPyV-1-Tag, which effectively transformed primary elephant endothelial cells. We expect that the potential of this reagent to transform elephant primary cells will, at a minimum, facilitate study of elephant-specific herpesviruses.