Insights into Circovirus Host Range from the Genomic Fossil Record

J Virol. 2018 Jul 31;92(16):e00145-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00145-18. Print 2018 Aug 15.


A diverse range of DNA sequences derived from circoviruses (family Circoviridae) has been identified in samples obtained from humans and domestic animals, often in association with pathological conditions. In the majority of cases, however, little is known about the natural biology of the viruses from which these sequences are derived. Endogenous circoviral elements (CVe) are DNA sequences derived from circoviruses that occur in animal genomes and provide a useful source of information about circovirus-host relationships. In this study, we screened genome assemblies of 675 animal species and identified numerous circovirus-related sequences, including the first examples of CVe derived from cycloviruses. We confirmed the presence of these CVe in the germ line of the elongate twig ant (Pseudomyrmex gracilis), thereby establishing that cycloviruses infect insects. We examined the evolutionary relationships between CVe and contemporary circoviruses, showing that CVe from ants and mites group relatively closely with cycloviruses in phylogenies. Furthermore, the relatively random interspersion of CVe from insect genomes with cyclovirus sequences recovered from vertebrate samples suggested that contamination might be an important consideration in studies reporting these viruses. Our study demonstrates how endogenous viral sequences can inform metagenomics-based virus discovery. In addition, it raises doubts about the role of cycloviruses as pathogens of humans and other vertebrates.IMPORTANCE Advances in DNA sequencing have dramatically increased the rate at which new viruses are being identified. However, the host species associations of most virus sequences identified in metagenomic samples are difficult to determine. Our analysis indicates that viruses proposed to infect vertebrates (in some cases being linked to human disease) may in fact be restricted to arthropod hosts. The detection of these sequences in vertebrate samples may reflect their widespread presence in the environment as viruses of parasitic arthropods.

Keywords: EVE; circovirus; cyclovirus; diversity; endogenous; evolution; metagenomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circovirus / genetics*
  • Circovirus / physiology
  • Genome*
  • Host Specificity*