Discovery of a Novel Single-Stranded DNA Virus from a Sea Turtle Fibropapilloma by Using Viral Metagenomics

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Viral metagenomics, consisting of viral particle purification and shotgun sequencing, is a powerful technique for discovering viruses associated with diseases with no definitive etiology, viruses that share limited homology with known viruses, or viruses that are not culturable. Here we used viral metagenomics to examine viruses associated with sea turtle fibropapillomatosis (FP), a debilitating neoplastic disease affecting sea turtles worldwide. By means of purifying and shotgun sequencing the viral community directly from the fibropapilloma of a Florida green sea turtle, a novel single-stranded DNA virus, sea turtle tornovirus 1 (STTV1), was discovered. The single-stranded, circular genome of STTV1 was approximately 1,800 nucleotides in length. STTV1 has only weak amino acid level identities (25%) to chicken anemia virus in short regions of its genome; hence, STTV1 may represent the first member of a novel virus family. A total of 35 healthy turtles and 27 turtles with FP were tested for STTV1 using PCR, and only 2 turtles severely afflicted with FP were positive. The affected turtles were systemically infected with STTV1, since STTV1 was found in blood and all major organs. STTV1 exists as a quasispecies, with several genome variants identified in the fibropapilloma of each positive turtle, suggesting rapid evolution of this virus. The STTV1 variants were identical over the majority of their genomes but contained a hypervariable region with extensive divergence. This study demonstrates the potential of viral metagenomics for discovering novel viruses directly from animal tissue, which can enhance our understanding of viral evolution and diversity.

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Journal of Virology, v. 83, no. 6, p. 2500-2509