Rapid Identification of Known and New RNA Viruses From Animal Tissues

PLoS Pathog. 2008 Sep 26;4(9):e1000163. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000163.


Viral surveillance programs or diagnostic labs occasionally obtain infectious samples that fail to be typed by available cell culture, serological, or nucleic acid tests. Five such samples, originating from insect pools, skunk brain, human feces and sewer effluent, collected between 1955 and 1980, resulted in pathology when inoculated into suckling mice. In this study, sequence-independent amplification of partially purified viral nucleic acids and small scale shotgun sequencing was used on mouse brain and muscle tissues. A single viral agent was identified in each sample. For each virus, between 16% to 57% of the viral genome was acquired by sequencing only 42-108 plasmid inserts. Viruses derived from human feces or sewer effluent belonged to the Picornaviridae family and showed between 80% to 91% amino acid identities to known picornaviruses. The complete polyprotein sequence of one virus showed strong similarity to a simian picornavirus sequence in the provisional Sapelovirus genus. Insects and skunk derived viral sequences exhibited amino acid identities ranging from 25% to 98% to the segmented genomes of viruses within the Reoviridae family. Two isolates were highly divergent: one is potentially a new species within the orthoreovirus genus, and the other is a new species within the orbivirus genus. We demonstrate that a simple, inexpensive, and rapid metagenomics approach is effective for identifying known and highly divergent new viruses in homogenized tissues of acutely infected mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Feces / virology
  • Genome, Viral
  • Humans
  • Insecta
  • Mephitidae
  • Mice
  • Picornaviridae / genetics
  • Picornaviridae / isolation & purification
  • RNA Viruses / genetics*
  • RNA Viruses / isolation & purification*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Reoviridae / genetics
  • Reoviridae / isolation & purification


  • RNA, Viral