The family Ascoviridae is a recently described virus family whose members are transmitted by parasitoids and cause chronic and lethal infections in lepidopteran insects. Little is known about the biology and ecology of ascoviruses, and few isolates have been found outside the United States. We report here the isolation of a new ascovirus variant from Spodoptera litura in Japan. Full genome sequence and phylogenetic analyses showed that this virus was closely related to variants in Heliothis virescens ascovirus-3a, and it was named HvAV-3j. HvAV-3j has a DNA genome of 191 718 bp, with 189 putative ORFs and a GC content of 45.6 %, and is highly similar to HvAV-3h, which was isolated in China. In a field survey, the endoparasitoid Meteorus pulchricornis caused a high percentage of parasitization in populations of S. litura larvae, and under laboratory conditions M. pulchricornis was able to transmit HvAV-3j from infected to uninfected larvae by oviposition. Meteorus pulchricornis is thus likely to be a major vector for HvAV-3j transmission in Japan. This species is recognized here for the first time as a vector of ascoviruses that parasitizes a range of host species that extends across families.
Keywords: Spodoptera litura; ascovirus; generalist; genome sequence; parasitoid vector.