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Nature. 2003 Aug 28;424(6952):1054-7.

High diversity of unknown picorna-like viruses in the sea.

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Picorna-like viruses are a loosely defined group of positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses that are major pathogens of animals, plants and insects. They include viruses that are of enormous economic and public-health concern and are responsible for animal diseases (such as poliomyelitis), plant diseases (such as sharka) and insect diseases (such as sacbrood). Viruses from the six divergent families (the Picornaviridae, Caliciviridae, Comoviridae, Sequiviridae, Dicistroviridae and Potyviridae) that comprise the picorna-like virus superfamily have the following features in common: a genome with a protein attached to the 5' end and no overlapping open reading frames, all the RNAs are translated into a polyprotein before processing, and a conserved RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) protein. Analyses of RdRp sequences from these viruses produce phylogenies that are congruent with established picorna-like virus family assignments; hence, this gene is an excellent molecular marker for examining the diversity of picorna-like viruses in nature. Here we report, on the basis of analysis of RdRp sequences amplified from marine virus communities, that a diverse array of picorna-like viruses exists in the ocean. All of the sequences amplified were divergent from known picorna-like viruses, and fell within four monophyletic groups that probably belong to at least two new families. Moreover, we show that an isolate belonging to one of these groups is a lytic pathogen of Heterosigma akashiwo, a toxic-bloom-forming alga responsible for severe economic losses to the finfish aquaculture industry, suggesting that picorna-like viruses are important pathogens of marine phytoplankton.

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