Turkey astrovirus

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Higher order taxa

Virus; ssRNA positive-strand viruses, no DNA stage; Astroviridae; Avastrovirus


NCBI: Taxonomy

Genus species

Description and significance

Astrovirus originated from ‘astron’, a Greek word for star because of the five-pointed or six-pointed side projection which can be detected by negative stained electron microscopy (EM). They were first described by Madeley & Cosgrove in 1975 as the causal for gastroenteritis in infants. Astrovirus disease is known as the causal for gastroenteritis, it is usually mild but more serious cases have been discovered in poultry. Astrovirus is most commonly found in turkeys and can lead to mortality. In 1980, turkey astrovirus was first described and was linked with turkey poults in the UK that were suffering from diarrhea and increased mortality. They were discovered in the U.S. the same year. Although replication is only routinely detected in the intestines, experimentally infected poults show thymus and bursal atrophy and the virus can be isolated in other tissues.

Genome structure

Genomically, astrovirus have positive-sense, single stranded, RNA genome which are about 6.8 to 7.9 kb in length. Their genomes have three open reading frames (ORFs) which are organized from 5’ to 3'. ORF1a encodes a serine protease, ORF1b encodes the RNA dependent polymerase and ORF 2 encodes the structural proteins. The space between the ORF1b (open reading frame) stop codon and the ORF2 is 18 nucleotides. There is also a translation machinery for ORF1b, although its sequence do not give a clear picture to the overall translation strategy. The frameshift structure allows for the translation of ORF1a and ORF1b to occur in order for polyprotein to cleave into functional subunits.

Virion Structure

Turkey Astrovirus are non-eneveloped, spherical, icosahedral capsid of 28 to 30nm. On the surface, they appear rough, spikes protruding from the 12 verticals. As previously stated, the capsid is not enveloped but round with polyhedral symmetry.


Habitat; symbiosis; contributions to the environment.


After the turkey has been infected and then consumed by human, it typically cause watery diarrhea which lasts for about 2-4 days. It can also cause although less commonly, vomiting, headache, fever, abdominal pains, and anorexia in children under 2, elderly and immunocompromised people. Diarrhea is the third leading infectious cause of death worldwide.

Research done by Koci et.al. shows that turkey astrovirus causes growth depression,decreased thymus size and enteric infection in infected turkeys. This was done by removal of a novel strain from turkey with the disease poult enteritis mortality syndrome. The result shows that there was although there was severe diarrhea, histopathology changes in the intestine were not deadly and there was no inflammation. This result may be because of increased activation of the “potent immunosuppressive cytokine" transforming growth factor beta during astrovirus infection.

Turkey virus can be isolated in embryonated eggs but there are no tools to detect the presence of antibodies against the virus. RT-PCR primers specific for virus has been the only accurate way to detect new astrovirus isolates that are similar to the ones available in the GenBank. The only known method of preventing and controlling infections with any of the astrovirus is strict containment. Also, the lab experiment shows that 0.3% formaldehyde, 1.5% Virkon S, 0.1% β-propriolactone, and 90% methanol are the only effective products that can be used for the inactivation. This suggests that complete sanitation of all materials and restricted access to facilities with the affected poultry is required to limit the outbreak to the farm affected. Strict biosecurity prophylactically is the most practical prevention method that can be used.

Current Research

There have been some evidence that there are distinct subtypes of turkey astrovirus. Strain et.al., performed experiment in differentiating the types of turkey astrovirus. Predicted capsid amino acid sequences were first used to assessed the relationship of the novel clinical TAstV isolates within the Astroviridae. The TAstV-1 capsid sequence was found in a clade containing avian nephritis virus, with distance between it and the TAstV-1. Sequence analysis of TastV-1 and TastV-2 diagnostic amplicons was used to demonstrate that the levels of variation among TastV-1 and TastV-2 are very diverse. The phylogenetic analysis of the full-length capsid genes of both types of Tast-V shows that both may have originated from separate introductions into the turkey species and that there are at least two lineages which are distinct subtypes instead of serotypes. There are potential serotypes to appear within each subtypes.

A computer analysis was done by Jonassesen et.al. that focused on the ORF1a gene product sequences and RNA sequences around the 5’end of the subgenomic RNA. In addition, reverse transcription, cDNA amplification, and DNA sequencing were performed. The ORF1 translational frameshift signal and overall genomic organization of TastV-1 corresponded to the ones published for other astrovirus. The analysis of the virus using TMHMM 2.0 tool which is used for predicting transmembrane helices in proteins showed five and six transmembrane helices, in the virus. As a result, analysis of the astrovirus that were available showed difference in the postulated transmembrane region and also two protein regions with the potential for forming coiled coils. Also, turkey astrovirus 2 make a single subgenomic mRNA that share boundary with the 3’ end of the genome.


[Sample reference] Takai, K., Sugai, A., Itoh, T., and Horikoshi, K. "Palaeococcus ferrophilus gen. nov., sp. nov., a barophilic, hyperthermophilic archaeon from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent chimney". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 2000. Volume 50. p. 489-500.

Edited by student of Emily Lilly at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.