Diversity of Sea Star-Associated Densoviruses and Transcribed Endogenous Viral Elements of Densovirus Origin

J Virol. 2020 Dec 9;95(1):e01594-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01594-20. Print 2020 Dec 9.


A viral etiology of sea star wasting syndrome (SSWS) was originally explored with virus-sized material challenge experiments, field surveys, and metagenomics, leading to the conclusion that a densovirus is the predominant DNA virus associated with this syndrome and, thus, the most promising viral candidate pathogen. Single-stranded DNA viruses are, however, highly diverse and pervasive among eukaryotic organisms, which we hypothesize may confound the association between densoviruses and SSWS. To test this hypothesis and assess the association of densoviruses with SSWS, we compiled past metagenomic data with new metagenomic-derived viral genomes from sea stars collected from Antarctica, California, Washington, and Alaska. We used 179 publicly available sea star transcriptomes to complement our approaches for densovirus discovery. Lastly, we focus the study on sea star-associated densovirus (SSaDV), the first sea star densovirus discovered, by documenting its biogeography and putative tissue tropism. Transcriptomes contained only endogenized densovirus elements similar to the NS1 gene, while numerous extant densoviral genomes were recovered from viral metagenomes. SSaDV was associated with nearly all tested species from southern California to Alaska, and in contrast to previous work, we show that SSaDV is one genotype among a high diversity of densoviruses present in sea stars across the West Coast of the United States and globally that are commonly associated with grossly normal (i.e., healthy or asymptomatic) animals. The diversity and ubiquity of these viruses in sea stars confound the original hypothesis that one densovirus is the etiological agent of SSWS.IMPORTANCE The primary interest in sea star densoviruses, specifically SSaDV, has been their association with sea star wasting syndrome (SSWS), a disease that has decimated sea star populations across the West Coast of the United States since 2013. The association of SSaDV with SSWS was originally drawn from metagenomic analysis, which was further studied through field surveys using quantitative PCR (qPCR), with the conclusion that it was the most likely viral candidate in the metagenomic data based on its representation in symptomatic sea stars compared to asymptomatic sea stars. We reexamined the original metagenomic data with additional genomic data sets and found that SSaDV was 1 of 10 densoviruses present in the original data set and was no more represented in symptomatic sea stars than in asymptomatic sea stars. Instead, SSaDV appears to be a widespread, generalist virus that exists among a large diversity of densoviruses present in sea star populations.

Keywords: densovirus; parvovirus; sea star wasting disease; ssDNA viruses; viral discovery; viral metagenomics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Animals
  • Densovirus / classification
  • Densovirus / genetics*
  • Densovirus / physiology
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Viral / genetics
  • Geography
  • Metagenome
  • Phylogeny
  • Starfish / genetics
  • Starfish / virology*
  • Transcriptome
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Tropism


  • Viral Proteins