Comparative analysis of rodent and small mammal viromes to better understand the wildlife origin of emerging infectious diseases

Microbiome. 2018 Oct 3;6(1):178. doi: 10.1186/s40168-018-0554-9.


Background: Rodents represent around 43% of all mammalian species, are widely distributed, and are the natural reservoirs of a diverse group of zoonotic viruses, including hantaviruses, Lassa viruses, and tick-borne encephalitis viruses. Thus, analyzing the viral diversity harbored by rodents could assist efforts to predict and reduce the risk of future emergence of zoonotic viral diseases.

Results: We used next-generation sequencing metagenomic analysis to survey for a range of mammalian viral families in rodents and other small animals of the orders Rodentia, Lagomorpha, and Soricomorpha in China. We sampled 3,055 small animals from 20 provinces and then outlined the spectra of mammalian viruses within these individuals and the basic ecological and genetic characteristics of novel rodent and shrew viruses among the viral spectra. Further analysis revealed that host taxonomy plays a primary role and geographical location plays a secondary role in determining viral diversity. Many viruses were reported for the first time with distinct evolutionary lineages, and viruses related to known human or animal pathogens were identified. Phylogram comparison between viruses and hosts indicated that host shifts commonly happened in many different species during viral evolutionary history.

Conclusions: These results expand our understanding of the viromes of rodents and insectivores in China and suggest that there is high diversity of viruses awaiting discovery in these species in Asia. These findings, combined with our previous bat virome data, greatly increase our knowledge of the viral community in wildlife in a densely populated country in an emerging disease hotspot.

Keywords: Emerging infectious diseases; Rodents; Small mammals; Viral evolution; Virome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • China
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / virology*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Lagomorpha / virology*
  • Metagenome / genetics
  • Rodentia / virology*
  • Virus Diseases / virology*
  • Viruses* / classification
  • Viruses* / genetics
  • Viruses* / isolation & purification