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Viruses. 2019 Nov 22;11(12). pii: E1088. doi: 10.3390/v11121088.

Identification of a Novel Adélie Penguin Circovirus at Cape Crozier (Ross Island, Antarctica).

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Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
US Geological Survey, Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
Point Blue Conservation Science, Petaluma, CA 94954, USA.
Laboratório de Patologia Comparada de Animais Selvagens (LAPCOM), Departamento de Patologia, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo 05508-060, Brazil.
School of Environmental Sciences, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury 2678, Australia.
HT Harvey and Associates, Los Gatos, CA 95032, USA.
Scholander Hall, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92093-0204, USA.
The Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, Center for Evolution and Medicine, School of Life sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-5001, USA.
Structural Biology Research Unit, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, University of Cape Town, Observatory, Cape Town 7701, South Africa.


Understanding the causes of disease in Antarctic wildlife is crucial, as many of these species are already threatened by environmental changes brought about by climate change. In recent years, Antarctic penguins have been showing signs of an unknown pathology: a feather disorder characterised by missing feathers, resulting in exposed skin. During the 2018-2019 austral summer breeding season at Cape Crozier colony on Ross Island, Antarctica, we observed for the first time an Adélie penguin chick missing down over most of its body. A guano sample was collected from the nest of the featherless chick, and using high-throughput sequencing, we identified a novel circovirus. Using abutting primers, we amplified the full genome, which we cloned and Sanger-sequenced to determine the complete genome of the circovirus. The Adélie penguin guano-associated circovirus genome shares <67% genome-wide nucleotide identity with other circoviruses, representing a new species of circovirus; therefore, we named it penguin circovirus (PenCV). Using the same primer pair, we screened 25 previously collected cloacal swabs taken at Cape Crozier from known-age adult Adélie penguins during the 2014-2015 season, displaying no clinical signs of feather-loss disorder. Three of the 25 samples (12%) were positive for a PenCV, whose genome shared >99% pairwise identity with the one identified in 2018-2019. This is the first report of a circovirus associated with a penguin species. This circovirus could be an etiological agent of the feather-loss disorder in Antarctic penguins.


Antarctica; Cape Crozier; Circoviridae; Pygoscelis adeliae; Ross Island

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