We have characterized the 3'-most 3 kb of the genome of bovine torovirus (BoTV) strain Breda. A novel 1.2-kb gene, located between the genes for the membrane and nucleocapsid proteins, was identified. This gene, the 3'-most 0.5 kb of which is also present in the genome of the equine torovirus isolate Berne virus (BEV), codes for a class I membrane protein displaying 30% sequence identity with the hemagglutinin-esterases (HEs) of coronaviruses and influenza C viruses. Heterologous expression of the BoTV HE gene yielded a 65,000-molecular weight N-glycosylated protein displaying acetylesterase activity. Serologic evidence indicates that the HE homolog is expressed during the natural infection and represents a prominent antigen. By using an antiserum raised against residues 13 to 130 of HE, the HE protein was detected in radioiodinated, sucrose gradient-purified BoTV preparations. Formal evidence that HE is a structural protein was provided by immunoelectron microscopy. In addition to the large, 17- to 20-nm spikes, BoTV virions possess shorter surface projections (6 nm on average). We postulate that these surface projections, which are absent from the BEV virion, are composed of the BoTV HE homolog. The HE gene, which has now been demonstrated in three different virus genera, is a showpiece example of modular evolution
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