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1.  Genome signature analysis of thermal virus metagenomes reveals Archaea and thermophilic signatures 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:420.
Metagenomic analysis provides a rich source of biological information for otherwise intractable viral communities. However, study of viral metagenomes has been hampered by its nearly complete reliance on BLAST algorithms for identification of DNA sequences. We sought to develop algorithms for examination of viral metagenomes to identify the origin of sequences independent of BLAST algorithms. We chose viral metagenomes obtained from two hot springs, Bear Paw and Octopus, in Yellowstone National Park, as they represent simple microbial populations where comparatively large contigs were obtained. Thermal spring metagenomes have high proportions of sequences without significant Genbank homology, which has hampered identification of viruses and their linkage with hosts. To analyze each metagenome, we developed a method to classify DNA fragments using genome signature-based phylogenetic classification (GSPC), where metagenomic fragments are compared to a database of oligonucleotide signatures for all previously sequenced Bacteria, Archaea, and viruses.
From both Bear Paw and Octopus hot springs, each assembled contig had more similarity to other metagenome contigs than to any sequenced microbial genome based on GSPC analysis, suggesting a genome signature common to each of these extreme environments. While viral metagenomes from Bear Paw and Octopus share some similarity, the genome signatures from each locale are largely unique. GSPC using a microbial database predicts most of the Octopus metagenome has archaeal signatures, while bacterial signatures predominate in Bear Paw; a finding consistent with those of Genbank BLAST. When using a viral database, the majority of the Octopus metagenome is predicted to belong to archaeal virus Families Globuloviridae and Fuselloviridae, while none of the Bear Paw metagenome is predicted to belong to archaeal viruses. As expected, when microbial and viral databases are combined, each of the Octopus and Bear Paw metagenomic contigs are predicted to belong to viruses rather than to any Bacteria or Archaea, consistent with the apparent viral origin of both metagenomes.
That BLAST searches identify no significant homologs for most metagenome contigs, while GSPC suggests their origin as archaeal viruses or bacteriophages, indicates GSPC provides a complementary approach in viral metagenomic analysis.
PMCID: PMC2556352  PMID: 18798991
2.  The Characterization of RNA Viruses in Tropical Seawater Using Targeted PCR and Metagenomics 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01210-14.
Viruses have a profound influence on the ecology and evolution of plankton, but our understanding of the composition of the aquatic viral communities is still rudimentary. This is especially true of those viruses having RNA genomes. The limited data that have been published suggest that the RNA virioplankton is dominated by viruses with positive-sense, single-stranded (+ss) genomes that have features in common with those of eukaryote-infecting viruses in the order Picornavirales (picornavirads). In this study, we investigated the diversity of the RNA virus assemblages in tropical coastal seawater samples using targeted PCR and metagenomics. Amplification of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) genes from fractions of a buoyant density gradient suggested that the distribution of two major subclades of the marine picornavirads was largely congruent with the distribution of total virus-like RNA, a finding consistent with their proposed dominance. Analyses of the RdRp sequences in the library revealed the presence of many diverse phylotypes, most of which were related only distantly to those of cultivated viruses. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that there were hundreds of unique picornavirad-like phylotypes in one 35-liter sample that differed from one another by at least as much as the differences among currently recognized species. Assembly of the sequences in the metagenome resulted in the reconstruction of six essentially complete viral genomes that had features similar to viruses in the families Bacillarna-, Dicistro-, and Marnaviridae. Comparison of the tropical seawater metagenomes with those from other habitats suggests that +ssRNA viruses are generally the most common types of RNA viruses in aquatic environments, but biases in library preparation remain a possible explanation for this observation.
Marine plankton account for much of the photosynthesis and respiration on our planet, and they influence the cycling of carbon and the distribution of nutrients on a global scale. Despite the fundamental importance of viruses to plankton ecology and evolution, most of the viruses in the sea, and the identities of their hosts, are unknown. This report is one of very few that delves into the genetic diversity within RNA-containing viruses in the ocean. The data expand the known range of viral diversity and shed new light on the physical properties and genetic composition of RNA viruses in the ocean.
PMCID: PMC4068258  PMID: 24939887
3.  Analyses of the radiation of birnaviruses from diverse host phyla and of their evolutionary affinities with other double-stranded RNA and positive strand RNA viruses using robust structure-based multiple sequence alignments and advanced phylogenetic methods 
Birnaviruses form a distinct family of double-stranded RNA viruses infecting animals as different as vertebrates, mollusks, insects and rotifers. With such a wide host range, they constitute a good model for studying the adaptation to the host. Additionally, several lines of evidence link birnaviruses to positive strand RNA viruses and suggest that phylogenetic analyses may provide clues about transition.
We characterized the genome of a birnavirus from the rotifer Branchionus plicalitis. We used X-ray structures of RNA-dependent RNA polymerases and capsid proteins to obtain multiple structure alignments that allowed us to obtain reliable multiple sequence alignments and we employed “advanced” phylogenetic methods to study the evolutionary relationships between some positive strand and double-stranded RNA viruses. We showed that the rotifer birnavirus genome exhibited an organization remarkably similar to other birnaviruses. As this host was phylogenetically very distant from the other known species targeted by birnaviruses, we revisited the evolutionary pathways within the Birnaviridae family using phylogenetic reconstruction methods. We also applied a number of phylogenetic approaches based on structurally conserved domains/regions of the capsid and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase proteins to study the evolutionary relationships between birnaviruses, other double-stranded RNA viruses and positive strand RNA viruses.
We show that there is a good correlation between the phylogeny of the birnaviruses and that of their hosts at the phylum level using the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (genomic segment B) on the one hand and a concatenation of the capsid protein, protease and ribonucleoprotein (genomic segment A) on the other hand. This correlation tends to vanish within phyla. The use of advanced phylogenetic methods and robust structure-based multiple sequence alignments allowed us to obtain a more accurate picture (in terms of probability of the tree topologies) of the evolutionary affinities between double-stranded RNA and positive strand RNA viruses. In particular, we were able to show that there exists a good statistical support for the claims that dsRNA viruses are not monophyletic and that viruses with permuted RdRps belong to a common evolution lineage as previously proposed by other groups. We also propose a tree topology with a good statistical support describing the evolutionary relationships between the Picornaviridae, Caliciviridae, Flaviviridae families and a group including the Alphatetraviridae, Nodaviridae, Permutotretraviridae, Birnaviridae, and Cystoviridae families.
PMCID: PMC3724706  PMID: 23865988
RNA-dependent RNA polymerase; Capsid protein; Double-stranded RNA viruses; Positive strand RNA viruses; Rotifer; Maximum likelihood phylogeny method; Bayesian phylogeny method; Structure-based alignments
4.  Zn2+ Inhibits Coronavirus and Arterivirus RNA Polymerase Activity In Vitro and Zinc Ionophores Block the Replication of These Viruses in Cell Culture 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(11):e1001176.
Increasing the intracellular Zn2+ concentration with zinc-ionophores like pyrithione (PT) can efficiently impair the replication of a variety of RNA viruses, including poliovirus and influenza virus. For some viruses this effect has been attributed to interference with viral polyprotein processing. In this study we demonstrate that the combination of Zn2+ and PT at low concentrations (2 µM Zn2+ and 2 µM PT) inhibits the replication of SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and equine arteritis virus (EAV) in cell culture. The RNA synthesis of these two distantly related nidoviruses is catalyzed by an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), which is the core enzyme of their multiprotein replication and transcription complex (RTC). Using an activity assay for RTCs isolated from cells infected with SARS-CoV or EAV—thus eliminating the need for PT to transport Zn2+ across the plasma membrane—we show that Zn2+ efficiently inhibits the RNA-synthesizing activity of the RTCs of both viruses. Enzymatic studies using recombinant RdRps (SARS-CoV nsp12 and EAV nsp9) purified from E. coli subsequently revealed that Zn2+ directly inhibited the in vitro activity of both nidovirus polymerases. More specifically, Zn2+ was found to block the initiation step of EAV RNA synthesis, whereas in the case of the SARS-CoV RdRp elongation was inhibited and template binding reduced. By chelating Zn2+ with MgEDTA, the inhibitory effect of the divalent cation could be reversed, which provides a novel experimental tool for in vitro studies of the molecular details of nidovirus replication and transcription.
Author Summary
Positive-stranded RNA (+RNA) viruses include many important pathogens. They have evolved a variety of replication strategies, but are unified in the fact that an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) functions as the core enzyme of their RNA-synthesizing machinery. The RdRp is commonly embedded in a membrane-associated replication complex that is assembled from viral RNA, and viral and host proteins. Given their crucial function in the viral replicative cycle, RdRps are key targets for antiviral research. Increased intracellular Zn2+ concentrations are known to efficiently impair replication of a number of RNA viruses, e.g. by interfering with correct proteolytic processing of viral polyproteins. Here, we not only show that corona- and arterivirus replication can be inhibited by increased Zn2+ levels, but also use both isolated replication complexes and purified recombinant RdRps to demonstrate that this effect may be based on direct inhibition of nidovirus RdRps. The combination of protocols described here will be valuable for future studies into the function of nidoviral enzyme complexes.
PMCID: PMC2973827  PMID: 21079686
5.  Characterization of the Archaeal Thermophile Sulfolobus Turreted Icosahedral Virus Validates an Evolutionary Link among Double-Stranded DNA Viruses from All Domains of Life 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(15):7625-7635.
Icosahedral nontailed double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses are present in all three domains of life, leading to speculation about a common viral ancestor that predates the divergence of Eukarya, Bacteria, and Archaea. This suggestion is supported by the shared general architecture of this group of viruses and the common fold of their major capsid protein. However, limited information on the diversity and replication of archaeal viruses, in general, has hampered further analysis. Sulfolobus turreted icosahedral virus (STIV), isolated from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, was the first icosahedral virus with an archaeal host to be described. Here we present a detailed characterization of the components forming this unusual virus. Using a proteomics-based approach, we identified nine viral and two host proteins from purified STIV particles. Interestingly, one of the viral proteins originates from a reading frame lacking a consensus start site. The major capsid protein (B345) was found to be glycosylated, implying a strong similarity to proteins from other dsDNA viruses. Sequence analysis and structural predication of virion-associated viral proteins suggest that they may have roles in DNA packaging, penton formation, and protein-protein interaction. The presence of an internal lipid layer containing acidic tetraether lipids has also been confirmed. The previously presented structural models in conjunction with the protein, lipid, and carbohydrate information reported here reveal that STIV is strikingly similar to viruses associated with the Bacteria and Eukarya domains of life, further strengthening the hypothesis for a common ancestor of this group of dsDNA viruses from all domains of life.
PMCID: PMC1563717  PMID: 16840341
6.  Raw Sewage Harbors Diverse Viral Populations 
mBio  2011;2(5):e00180-11.
At this time, about 3,000 different viruses are recognized, but metagenomic studies suggest that these viruses are a small fraction of the viruses that exist in nature. We have explored viral diversity by deep sequencing nucleic acids obtained from virion populations enriched from raw sewage. We identified 234 known viruses, including 17 that infect humans. Plant, insect, and algal viruses as well as bacteriophages were also present. These viruses represented 26 taxonomic families and included viruses with single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), positive-sense ssRNA [ssRNA(+)], and dsRNA genomes. Novel viruses that could be placed in specific taxa represented 51 different families, making untreated wastewater the most diverse viral metagenome (genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples) examined thus far. However, the vast majority of sequence reads bore little or no sequence relation to known viruses and thus could not be placed into specific taxa. These results show that the vast majority of the viruses on Earth have not yet been characterized. Untreated wastewater provides a rich matrix for identifying novel viruses and for studying virus diversity.
Importance At this time, virology is focused on the study of a relatively small number of viral species. Specific viruses are studied either because they are easily propagated in the laboratory or because they are associated with disease. The lack of knowledge of the size and characteristics of the viral universe and the diversity of viral genomes is a roadblock to understanding important issues, such as the origin of emerging pathogens and the extent of gene exchange among viruses. Untreated wastewater is an ideal system for assessing viral diversity because virion populations from large numbers of individuals are deposited and because raw sewage itself provides a rich environment for the growth of diverse host species and thus their viruses. These studies suggest that the viral universe is far more vast and diverse than previously suspected.
At this time, virology is focused on the study of a relatively small number of viral species. Specific viruses are studied either because they are easily propagated in the laboratory or because they are associated with disease. The lack of knowledge of the size and characteristics of the viral universe and the diversity of viral genomes is a roadblock to understanding important issues, such as the origin of emerging pathogens and the extent of gene exchange among viruses. Untreated wastewater is an ideal system for assessing viral diversity because virion populations from large numbers of individuals are deposited and because raw sewage itself provides a rich environment for the growth of diverse host species and thus their viruses. These studies suggest that the viral universe is far more vast and diverse than previously suspected.
PMCID: PMC3187576  PMID: 21972239
7.  Assembly of Viral Metagenomes from Yellowstone Hot Springs▿ † 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(13):4164-4174.
Thermophilic viruses were reported decades ago; however, knowledge of their diversity, biology, and ecological impact is limited. Previous research on thermophilic viruses focused on cultivated strains. This study examined metagenomic profiles of viruses directly isolated from two mildly alkaline hot springs, Bear Paw (74°C) and Octopus (93°C). Using a new method for constructing libraries from picograms of DNA, nearly 30 Mb of viral DNA sequence was determined. In contrast to previous studies, sequences were assembled at 50% and 95% identity, creating composite contigs up to 35 kb and facilitating analysis of the inherent heterogeneity in the populations. Lowering the assembly identity reduced the estimated number of viral types from 1,440 and 1,310 to 548 and 283, respectively. Surprisingly, the diversity of viral species in these springs approaches that in moderate-temperature environments. While most known thermophilic viruses have a chronic, nonlytic infection lifestyle, analysis of coding sequences suggests lytic viruses are more common in geothermal environments than previously thought. The 50% assembly included one contig with high similarity and perfect synteny to nine genes from Pyrobaculum spherical virus (PSV). In fact, nearly all the genes of the 28-kb genome of PSV have apparent homologs in the metagenomes. Similarities to thermoacidophilic viruses isolated on other continents were limited to specific open reading frames but were equally strong. Nearly 25% of the reads showed significant similarity between the hot springs, suggesting a common subterranean source. To our knowledge, this is the first application of metagenomics to viruses of geothermal origin.
PMCID: PMC2446518  PMID: 18441115
8.  The complete genomes of three viruses assembled from shotgun libraries of marine RNA virus communities 
Virology Journal  2007;4:69.
RNA viruses have been isolated that infect marine organisms ranging from bacteria to whales, but little is known about the composition and population structure of the in situ marine RNA virus community. In a recent study, the majority of three genomes of previously unknown positive-sense single-stranded (ss) RNA viruses were assembled from reverse-transcribed whole-genome shotgun libraries. The present contribution comparatively analyzes these genomes with respect to representative viruses from established viral taxa.
Two of the genomes (JP-A and JP-B), appear to be polycistronic viruses in the proposed order Picornavirales that fall into a well-supported clade of marine picorna-like viruses, the characterized members of which all infect marine protists. A temporal and geographic survey indicates that the JP genomes are persistent and widespread in British Columbia waters. The third genome, SOG, encodes a putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) that is related to the RdRp of viruses in the family Tombusviridae, but the remaining SOG sequence has no significant similarity to any sequences in the NCBI database.
The complete genomes of these viruses permitted analyses that resulted in a more comprehensive comparison of these pathogens with established taxa. For example, in concordance with phylogenies based on the RdRp, our results support a close homology between JP-A and JP-B and RsRNAV. In contrast, although classification of the SOG genome based on the RdRp places SOG within the Tombusviridae, SOG lacks a capsid and movement protein conserved within this family and SOG is thus likely more distantly related to the Tombusivridae than the RdRp phylogeney indicates.
PMCID: PMC1948888  PMID: 17617913
9.  Use of Cellular CRISPR (Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) Spacer-Based Microarrays for Detection of Viruses in Environmental Samples ▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(21):7251-7258.
It is currently difficult to detect unknown viruses in any given environment. The recent discovery of CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) loci within bacterial and archaeal cellular genomes may provide an alternative approach to detect new viruses. It has been shown that the spacer sequences between the direct repeat units of the CRISPR loci are often derived from viruses and likely function as guide sequences to protect the cell from viral infection. The spacer sequences within the CRISPR loci may therefore serve as a record of the viruses that have replicated within the cell. We have cataloged the CRISPR spacer sequences from cellular metagenomic data from high-temperature (>80°C), acidic (pH < 4) hot spring environments located in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). We designed a microarray platform utilizing these CRISPR spacer sequences as potential probes to detect viruses present in YNP hot spring environments. We show that this microarray approach can detect viral sequences directly from virus-enriched environmental samples, detecting new viruses which have not been previously characterized. We further demonstrated that this microarray approach can be used to examine temporal changes in viral populations within the environment. Our results demonstrate that CRISPR spacer sequence-based microarrays will be useful tools for detecting and monitoring viruses from diverse environmental samples.
PMCID: PMC2976250  PMID: 20851987
10.  Rescue of Infectious Birnavirus from Recombinant Ribonucleoprotein Complexes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e87790.
Birnaviruses are unconventional members of the icosahedral double-stranded (dsRNA) RNA virus group. The main differential birnavirus trait is the lack of the inner icosahedral transcriptional core, a ubiquitous structure conserved in all other icosahedral dsRNA viruses, that shelters the genome from cellular dsRNA sensors and provide the enzymatic machinery to produce and extrude mature messenger RNAs. In contrast, birnaviral particles enclose ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes formed by the genome segments, the dsRNA-binding VP3 polypeptide and the virus-encoded RNA polymerase (RdRp). The presence of RNPs suggests that the birnavirus replication program might exhibit significant differences with respect to those of prototypal dsRNA viruses. However, experimental evidences supporting this hypothesis are as yet scarce. Of particular relevance for the understanding of birnavirus replication is to determine whether RNPs act as intracellular capsid-independent transcriptional units. Our study was focused to answer this question using the infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), the best characterized birnavirus, as model virus. Here, we describe the intracellular assembly of functional IBDV RNPs in the absence of the virus-encoded VP2 capsid polypeptide. Recombinant RNPs are generated upon coexpression of the IBDV VP1 and RdRp polypeptides and transfection of purified virus dsRNA. Presented data show that recombinant RNPs direct the expression of the IBDV polypeptide repertoire and the production of infectious virus in culture cells. Results described in this report constitute the first direct experimental evidence showing that birnaviral RNPs are intracellularly active in the absence of the virus capsid. This finding is consistent with presented data indicating that RNP formation precedes virus assembly in IBDV-infected cells, and supports the recently proposed IBDV replication model entailing the release of RNPs during the initial stages of the infection. Indeed, results presented here also support the previously proposed evolutionary connection between birnaviruses and positive-strand single-stranded RNA viruses.
PMCID: PMC3907549  PMID: 24498196
11.  Chromatin is an ancient innovation conserved between Archaea and Eukarya 
eLife  2012;1:e00078.
The eukaryotic nucleosome is the fundamental unit of chromatin, comprising a protein octamer that wraps ∼147 bp of DNA and has essential roles in DNA compaction, replication and gene expression. Nucleosomes and chromatin have historically been considered to be unique to eukaryotes, yet studies of select archaea have identified homologs of histone proteins that assemble into tetrameric nucleosomes. Here we report the first archaeal genome-wide nucleosome occupancy map, as observed in the halophile Haloferax volcanii. Nucleosome occupancy was compared with gene expression by compiling a comprehensive transcriptome of Hfx. volcanii. We found that archaeal transcripts possess hallmarks of eukaryotic chromatin structure: nucleosome-depleted regions at transcriptional start sites and conserved −1 and +1 promoter nucleosomes. Our observations demonstrate that histones and chromatin architecture evolved before the divergence of Archaea and Eukarya, suggesting that the fundamental role of chromatin in the regulation of gene expression is ancient.
eLife digest
Single-celled microorganisms called archaea are one of the three domains of cellular life, along with bacteria and eukaryotes. Archaea are similar to bacteria in that they do not have nuclei, but genetically they have more in common with eukaryotes. Archaea are found in a wide range of habitats including the human colon, marshlands, the ocean and extreme environments such as hot springs and salt lakes.
It has been known since the 1990s that the DNA of archaea is wrapped around histones to form complexes that closely resemble the nucleosomes found in eukaryotes, albeit with four rather than eight histone subunits. Nucleosomes are the fundamental units of chromatin, the highly-ordered and compact structure that all the DNA in a cell is packed into. Now we know exactly how many nucleosomes are present in a given cell for some eukaryotes, notably yeast, and to a good approximation we know the position of each nucleosome during a variety of metabolic states and physiological conditions. We can also quantify the nucleosome occupancy, which is measure of the length of time that the nucleosomes spend in contact with the DNA: this is a critical piece of information because it determines the level of access that other proteins, including those that regulate gene expression, have to the DNA. These advances have been driven in large part by advances in technology, notably high-density microarrays for genome wide-studies of nucleosome occupancy, and massively parallel sequencing for direct nucleosome sequencing.
Ammar et al. have used these techniques to explore how the DNA of Haloferax volcanii, a species of archaea that thrives in the hyper-salty waters of the Dead Sea, is organized on a genome-wide basis. Despite some clear differences between the genomes of archaea and eukaryotes—for example, genomic DNA is typically circular in archaea and linear in eukaryotes—they found that the genome of Hfx. volcanii is organized into chromatin in a way that is remarkably similar to that seen in all eukaryotic genomes studied to date. This is surprising given that the chromatin in eukaryotes is confined to the nucleus, whereas there are no such constraints in archaea. In particular, Ammar et al. found that those regions of the DNA near the ends of genes that mark where the transcription of the DNA into RNA should begin and end contain have lower nucleosome occupancy than other regions. Moreover, the overall level of occupancy in Hfx. volcanii was twice that of eukaryotes, which is what one would expect given that nucleosomes in archaea contain half as many histone subunits as nucleosomes in eukaryotes. Ammar et al. also confirmed that that the degree of nucleosome occupancy is correlated with gene expression.
These two findings—the similarities between the chromatin in archaea and eukaryotes, and the correlation between nucleosome occupancy and gene expression in archaea—raise an interesting evolutionary possibility: the initial function of nucleosomes and chromatin formation might have been for the regulation of gene expression rather than the packaging of DNA. This is consistent with two decades of research that has shown that there is an extraordinary and complex relationship between the structure of chromatin and the process of gene expression. It is possible, therefore, that as the early eukaryotes evolved, nucleosomes and chromatin started to package DNA into compact structures that, among other things, helped to prevent DNA damage, and that this subsequently enabled the early eukaryotes to flourish.
PMCID: PMC3510453  PMID: 23240084
Haloferax volcanii; Nucleosome; Chromatin; Transcriptome; RNA-seq; Archaea; Other
12.  Infectious Bronchitis Virus Generates Spherules from Zippered Endoplasmic Reticulum Membranes 
mBio  2013;4(5):e00801-13.
Replication of positive-sense RNA viruses is associated with the rearrangement of cellular membranes. Previous work on the infection of tissue culture cell lines with the betacoronaviruses mouse hepatitis virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) showed that they generate double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) and convoluted membranes as part of a reticular membrane network. Here we describe a detailed study of the membrane rearrangements induced by the avian gammacoronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) in a mammalian cell line but also in primary avian cells and in epithelial cells of ex vivo tracheal organ cultures. In all cell types, structures novel to IBV infection were identified that we have termed zippered endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and spherules. Zippered ER lacked luminal space, suggesting zippering of ER cisternae, while spherules appeared as uniform invaginations of zippered ER. Electron tomography showed that IBV-induced spherules are tethered to the zippered ER and that there is a channel connecting the interior of the spherule with the cytoplasm, a feature thought to be necessary for sites of RNA synthesis but not seen previously for membrane rearrangements induced by coronaviruses. We also identified DMVs in IBV-infected cells that were observed as single individual DMVs or were connected to the ER via their outer membrane but not to the zippered ER. Interestingly, IBV-induced spherules strongly resemble confirmed sites of RNA synthesis for alphaviruses, nodaviruses, and bromoviruses, which may indicate similar strategies of IBV and these diverse viruses for the assembly of RNA replication complexes.
IMPORTANCE All positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses induce rearranged cellular membranes, providing a platform for viral replication complex assembly and protecting viral RNA from cellular defenses. We have studied the membrane rearrangements induced by an important poultry pathogen, the gammacoronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). Previous work studying closely related betacoronaviruses identified double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) and convoluted membranes (CMs) derived from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in infected cells. However, the role of DMVs and CMs in viral RNA synthesis remains unclear because these sealed vesicles lack a means of delivering viral RNA to the cytoplasm. Here, we characterized structures novel to IBV infection: zippered ER and small vesicles tethered to the zippered ER termed spherules. Significantly, spherules contain a channel connecting their interior to the cytoplasm and strongly resemble confirmed sites of RNA synthesis for other positive-sense RNA viruses, making them ideal candidates for the site of IBV RNA synthesis.
All positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses induce rearranged cellular membranes, providing a platform for viral replication complex assembly and protecting viral RNA from cellular defenses. We have studied the membrane rearrangements induced by an important poultry pathogen, the gammacoronavirus infectious bronchitis virus (IBV). Previous work studying closely related betacoronaviruses identified double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) and convoluted membranes (CMs) derived from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in infected cells. However, the role of DMVs and CMs in viral RNA synthesis remains unclear because these sealed vesicles lack a means of delivering viral RNA to the cytoplasm. Here, we characterized structures novel to IBV infection: zippered ER and small vesicles tethered to the zippered ER termed spherules. Significantly, spherules contain a channel connecting their interior to the cytoplasm and strongly resemble confirmed sites of RNA synthesis for other positive-sense RNA viruses, making them ideal candidates for the site of IBV RNA synthesis.
PMCID: PMC3812713  PMID: 24149513
13.  Relationships among the positive strand and double-strand RNA viruses as viewed through their RNA-dependent RNA polymerases. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1991;19(2):217-226.
The sequences of 50 RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RDRPs) from 43 positive strand and 7 double strand RNA (dsRNA) viruses have been compared. The alignment permitted calculation of distances among the 50 viruses and a resultant dendrogram based on every amino acid, rather than just those amino acids in the conserved motifs. Remarkably, a large subgroup of these viruses, including vertebrate, plant, and insect viruses, forms a single cluster whose only common characteristic is exploitation of insect hosts or vectors. This similarity may be due to molecular constraints associated with a present and/or past ability to infect insects and/or to common descent from insect viruses. If common descent is important, as it appears to be, all the positive strand RNA viruses of eucaryotes except for the picornaviruses may have evolved from an ancestral dsRNA virus. Viral RDRPs appear to be inherited as modules rather than as portions of single RNA segments, implying that RNA recombination has played an important role in their dissemination.
PMCID: PMC333583  PMID: 2014162
14.  Diverse CRISPRs Evolving in Human Microbiomes 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(6):e1002441.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) loci, together with cas (CRISPR–associated) genes, form the CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system, a primary defense strategy that eubacteria and archaea mobilize against foreign nucleic acids, including phages and conjugative plasmids. Short spacer sequences separated by the repeats are derived from foreign DNA and direct interference to future infections. The availability of hundreds of shotgun metagenomic datasets from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) enables us to explore the distribution and diversity of known CRISPRs in human-associated microbial communities and to discover new CRISPRs. We propose a targeted assembly strategy to reconstruct CRISPR arrays, which whole-metagenome assemblies fail to identify. For each known CRISPR type (identified from reference genomes), we use its direct repeat consensus sequence to recruit reads from each HMP dataset and then assemble the recruited reads into CRISPR loci; the unique spacer sequences can then be extracted for analysis. We also identified novel CRISPRs or new CRISPR variants in contigs from whole-metagenome assemblies and used targeted assembly to more comprehensively identify these CRISPRs across samples. We observed that the distributions of CRISPRs (including 64 known and 86 novel ones) are largely body-site specific. We provide detailed analysis of several CRISPR loci, including novel CRISPRs. For example, known streptococcal CRISPRs were identified in most oral microbiomes, totaling ∼8,000 unique spacers: samples resampled from the same individual and oral site shared the most spacers; different oral sites from the same individual shared significantly fewer, while different individuals had almost no common spacers, indicating the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses. We further demonstrate potential applications of CRISPRs to the tracing of rare species and the virus exposure of individuals. This work indicates the importance of effective identification and characterization of CRISPR loci to the study of the dynamic ecology of microbiomes.
Author Summary
Human bodies are complex ecological systems in which various microbial organisms and viruses interact with each other and with the human host. The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has resulted in >700 datasets of shotgun metagenomic sequences, from which we can learn about the compositions and functions of human-associated microbial communities. CRISPR/Cas systems are a widespread class of adaptive immune systems in bacteria and archaea, providing acquired immunity against foreign nucleic acids: CRISPR/Cas defense pathways involve integration of viral- or plasmid-derived DNA segments into CRISPR arrays (forming spacers between repeated structural sequences), and expression of short crRNAs from these single repeat-spacer units, to generate interference to future invading foreign genomes. Powered by an effective computational approach (the targeted assembly approach for CRISPR), our analysis of CRISPR arrays in the HMP datasets provides the very first global view of bacterial immunity systems in human-associated microbial communities. The great diversity of CRISPR spacers we observed among different body sites, in different individuals, and in single individuals over time, indicates the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses and indicates the key role of bacteriophage (and plasmids) in shaping human microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC3374615  PMID: 22719260
15.  Temporal order of evolution of DNA replication systems inferred by comparison of cellular and viral DNA polymerases 
Biology Direct  2006;1:39.
The core enzymes of the DNA replication systems show striking diversity among cellular life forms and more so among viruses. In particular, and counter-intuitively, given the central role of DNA in all cells and the mechanistic uniformity of replication, the core enzymes of the replication systems of bacteria and archaea (as well as eukaryotes) are unrelated or extremely distantly related. Viruses and plasmids, in addition, possess at least two unique DNA replication systems, namely, the protein-primed and rolling circle modalities of replication. This unexpected diversity makes the origin and evolution of DNA replication systems a particularly challenging and intriguing problem in evolutionary biology.
I propose a specific succession for the emergence of different DNA replication systems, drawing argument from the differences in their representation among viruses and other selfish replicating elements. In a striking pattern, the DNA replication systems of viruses infecting bacteria and eukaryotes are dominated by the archaeal-type B-family DNA polymerase (PolB) whereas the bacterial replicative DNA polymerase (PolC) is present only in a handful of bacteriophage genomes. There is no apparent mechanistic impediment to the involvement of the bacterial-type replication machinery in viral DNA replication. Therefore, I hypothesize that the observed, markedly unequal distribution of the replicative DNA polymerases among the known cellular and viral replication systems has a historical explanation. I propose that, among the two types of DNA replication machineries that are found in extant life forms, the archaeal-type, PolB-based system evolved first and had already given rise to a variety of diverse viruses and other selfish elements before the advent of the bacterial, PolC-based machinery. Conceivably, at that stage of evolution, the niches for DNA-viral reproduction have been already filled with viruses replicating with the help of the archaeal system, and viruses with the bacterial system never took off. I further suggest that the two other systems of DNA replication, the rolling circle mechanism and the protein-primed mechanism, which are represented in diverse selfish elements, also evolved prior to the emergence of the bacterial replication system. This hypothesis is compatible with the distinct structural affinities of PolB, which has the palm-domain fold shared with reverse transcriptases and RNA-dependent RNA polymerases, and PolC that has a distinct, unrelated nucleotidyltransferase fold. I propose that PolB is a descendant of polymerases that were involved in the replication of genetic elements in the RNA-protein world, prior to the emergence of DNA replication. By contrast, PolC might have evolved from an ancient non-templated polymerase, e.g., polyA polymerase. The proposed temporal succession of the evolving DNA replication systems does not depend on the specific scenario adopted for the evolution of cells and viruses, i.e., whether viruses are derived from cells or virus-like elements are thought to originate from a primordial gene pool. However, arguments are presented in favor of the latter scenario as the most parsimonious explanation of the evolution of DNA replication systems.
Comparative analysis of the diversity of genomic strategies and organizations of viruses and cellular life forms has the potential to open windows into the deep past of life's evolution, especially, with the regard to the origin of genome replication systems. When complemented with information on the evolution of the relevant protein folds, this comparative approach can yield credible scenarios for very early steps of evolution that otherwise appear to be out of reach.
Eric Bapteste, Patrick Forterre, and Mark Ragan.
PMCID: PMC1766352  PMID: 17176463
16.  Comparative Genomic Analysis of Hyperthermophilic Archaeal Fuselloviridae Viruses 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(4):1954-1961.
The complete genome sequences of two Sulfolobus spindle-shaped viruses (SSVs) from acidic hot springs in Kamchatka (Russia) and Yellowstone National Park (United States) have been determined. These nonlytic temperate viruses were isolated from hyperthermophilic Sulfolobus hosts, and both viruses share the spindle-shaped morphology characteristic of the Fuselloviridae family. These two genomes, in combination with the previously determined SSV1 genome from Japan and the SSV2 genome from Iceland, have allowed us to carry out a phylogenetic comparison of these geographically distributed hyperthermal viruses. Each virus contains a circular double-stranded DNA genome of ∼15 kbp with approximately 34 open reading frames (ORFs). These Fusellovirus ORFs show little or no similarity to genes in the public databases. In contrast, 18 ORFs are common to all four isolates and may represent the minimal gene set defining this viral group. In general, ORFs on one half of the genome are colinear and highly conserved, while ORFs on the other half are not. One shared ORF among all four genomes is an integrase of the tyrosine recombinase family. All four viral genomes integrate into their host tRNA genes. The specific tRNA gene used for integration varies, and one genome integrates into multiple loci. Several unique ORFs are found in the genome of each isolate.
PMCID: PMC369504  PMID: 14747560
17.  Three-dimensional Structure of Victorivirus HvV190S Suggests Coat Proteins in Most Totiviruses Share a Conserved Core 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(3):e1003225.
Double-stranded (ds)RNA fungal viruses are currently assigned to six different families. Those from the family Totiviridae are characterized by nonsegmented genomes and single-layer capsids, 300–450 Å in diameter. Helminthosporium victoriae virus 190S (HvV190S), prototype of recently recognized genus Victorivirus, infects the filamentous fungus Helminthosporium victoriae (telomorph: Cochliobolus victoriae), which is the causal agent of Victoria blight of oats. The HvV190S genome is 5179 bp long and encompasses two large, slightly overlapping open reading frames that encode the coat protein (CP, 772 aa) and the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp, 835 aa). To our present knowledge, victoriviruses uniquely express their RdRps via a coupled termination–reinitiation mechanism that differs from the well-characterized Saccharomyces cerevisiae virus L-A (ScV-L-A, prototype of genus Totivirus), in which the RdRp is expressed as a CP/RdRp fusion protein due to ribosomal frameshifting. Here, we used transmission electron cryomicroscopy and three-dimensional image reconstruction to determine the structures of HvV190S virions and two types of virus-like particles (capsids lacking dsRNA and capsids lacking both dsRNA and RdRp) at estimated resolutions of 7.1, 7.5, and 7.6 Å, respectively. The HvV190S capsid is thin and smooth, and contains 120 copies of CP arranged in a “T = 2” icosahedral lattice characteristic of ScV-L-A and other dsRNA viruses. For aid in our interpretations, we developed and used an iterative segmentation procedure to define the boundaries of the two, chemically identical CP subunits in each asymmetric unit. Both subunits have a similar fold, but one that differs from ScV-L-A in many details except for a core α-helical region that is further predicted to be conserved among many other totiviruses. In particular, we predict the structures of other victoriviruses to be highly similar to HvV190S and the structures of most if not all totiviruses including, Leishmania RNA virus 1, to be similar as well.
Author Summary
Of the known dsRNA fungal viruses, the best characterized is Saccharomyces cerevisiae virus L-A (ScV-L-A), prototype of the genus Totivirus, family Totiviridae. Until the current study, there have been no subnanometer structures of dsRNA fungal viruses from the genus Victorivirus, which is the largest in family Totiviridae. The 3D cryo-reconstruction presented here of prototype victorivirus Helminthosporium victoriae virus 190S (HvV190S) approaches 7-Å resolution and shows the asymmetric unit of the capsid is a dimer comprising two, chemically identical coat-protein subunits organized in a so called “T = 2” lattice. These HvV190S subunits have a similar fold, but one that differs from ScV-L-A in many details except for a core α-helical region that is further predicted to be conserved among many other totiviruses. In particular, we predict the structures of other victoriviruses to be highly similar to HvV190S and the structures of most if not all totiviruses, including Leishmania RNA virus 1, to be similar as well.
PMCID: PMC3597494  PMID: 23516364
18.  Protein Expression Redirects Vesicular Stomatitis Virus RNA Synthesis to Cytoplasmic Inclusions 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(6):e1000958.
Positive-strand and double-strand RNA viruses typically compartmentalize their replication machinery in infected cells. This is thought to shield viral RNA from detection by innate immune sensors and favor RNA synthesis. The picture for the non-segmented negative-strand (NNS) RNA viruses, however, is less clear. Working with vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a prototype of the NNS RNA viruses, we examined the location of the viral replication machinery and RNA synthesis in cells. By short-term labeling of viral RNA with 5′-bromouridine 5′-triphosphate (BrUTP), we demonstrate that primary mRNA synthesis occurs throughout the host cell cytoplasm. Protein synthesis results in the formation of inclusions that contain the viral RNA synthesis machinery and become the predominant sites of mRNA synthesis in the cell. Disruption of the microtubule network by treatment of cells with nocodazole leads to the accumulation of viral mRNA in discrete structures that decorate the surface of the inclusions. By pulse-chase analysis of the mRNA, we find that viral transcripts synthesized at the inclusions are transported away from the inclusions in a microtubule-dependent manner. Metabolic labeling of viral proteins revealed that inhibiting this transport step diminished the rate of translation. Collectively those data suggest that microtubule-dependent transport of viral mRNAs from inclusions facilitates their translation. Our experiments also show that during a VSV infection, protein synthesis is required to redirect viral RNA synthesis to intracytoplasmic inclusions. As viral RNA synthesis is initially unrestricted, we speculate that its subsequent confinement to inclusions might reflect a cellular response to infection.
Author Summary
Positive-strand and double-strand RNA viruses compartmentalize their replication machinery in infected cells. This compartmentalization is thought to favor the catalysis of RNA synthesis, and sequester viral RNA molecules from detection by innate immune sensors. For the negative-strand RNA viruses that replicate in the cytoplasm, the site of RNA synthesis is less clear. Here, using a prototype non-segmented negative-strand (NNS) RNA virus, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), we investigated whether viral derived inclusions are sites of RNA synthesis in infected cells. Our work shows that prior to viral protein synthesis the invading viral cores synthesize mRNA throughout the host cell cytoplasm. Viral protein expression leads to the formation of intracytoplasmic inclusions that contain the viral machinery necessary for RNA synthesis and become the predominant sites of transcription. The newly synthesized viral mRNAs escape the inclusions by transport along microtubules and this facilitates their translation. Our work demonstrates that in contrast to the positive-strand and double-strand RNA viruses, VSV does not require the establishment of specialized compartments in the cytoplasm of the cell for RNA synthesis. Our findings suggest that the confinement of RNA synthesis to inclusions once infection is established may reflect a host response to infection.
PMCID: PMC2891829  PMID: 20585632
19.  Signatures of Host mRNA 5′ Terminus for Efficient Hantavirus Cap Snatching 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(18):10173-10185.
Hantaviruses, similarly to other negative-strand segmented RNA viruses, initiate the synthesis of translation-competent capped mRNAs by a unique cap-snatching mechanism. Hantavirus nucleocapsid protein (N) binds to host mRNA caps and requires four nucleotides adjacent to the 5′ cap for high-affinity binding. N protects the 5′ caps of cellular transcripts from degradation by the cellular decapping machinery. The rescued 5′ capped mRNA fragments are stored in cellular P bodies by N, which are later efficiently used as primers by the hantaviral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) for transcription initiation. We showed that N also protects the host mRNA caps in P-body-deficient cells. However, the rescued caps were not effectively used by the hantavirus RdRp during transcription initiation, suggesting that caps stored in cellular P bodies by N are preferred for cap snatching. We examined the characteristics of the 5′ terminus of a capped test mRNA to delineate the minimum requirements for a capped transcript to serve as an efficient cap donor during hantavirus cap snatching. We showed that hantavirus RdRp preferentially snatches caps from the nonsense mRNAs compared to mRNAs engaged in translation. Hantavirus RdRp preferentially cleaves the cap donor mRNA at a G residue located 14 nucleotides downstream of the 5′ cap. The sequence complementarity between the 3′ terminus of viral genomic RNA and the nucleotides located in the vicinity of the cleavage site of the cap donor mRNA favors cap snatching. Our results show that hantavirus RdRp snatches caps from viral mRNAs. However, the negligible cap-donating efficiency of wild-type mRNAs in comparison to nonsense mRNAs suggests that viral mRNAs will not be efficiently used for cap snatching during viral infection due to their continuous engagement in protein synthesis. Our results suggest that efficiency of an mRNA to donate caps for viral mRNA synthesis is primarily regulated at the translational level.
PMCID: PMC3446632  PMID: 22787213
20.  RIG-I and MDA-5 Detection of Viral RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase Activity Restricts Positive-Strand RNA Virus Replication 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(9):e1003610.
Type I interferons (IFN) are important for antiviral responses. Melanoma differentiation-associated gene 5 (MDA-5) and retinoic acid-induced gene I (RIG-I) proteins detect cytosolic double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) or 5′-triphosphate (5′-ppp) RNA and mediate IFN production. Cytosolic 5′-ppp RNA and dsRNA are generated during viral RNA replication and transcription by viral RNA replicases [RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRp)]. Here, we show that the Semliki Forest virus (SFV) RNA replicase can induce IFN-β independently of viral RNA replication and transcription. The SFV replicase converts host cell RNA into 5′-ppp dsRNA and induces IFN-β through the RIG-I and MDA-5 pathways. Inactivation of the SFV replicase RdRp activity prevents IFN-β induction. These IFN-inducing modified host cell RNAs are abundantly produced during both wild-type SFV and its non-pathogenic mutant infection. Furthermore, in contrast to the wild-type SFV replicase a non-pathogenic mutant replicase triggers increased IFN-β production, which leads to a shutdown of virus replication. These results suggest that host cells can restrict RNA virus replication by detecting the products of unspecific viral replicase RdRp activity.
Author Summary
Type I interferons (IFN) are critical for mounting effective antiviral responses by the host cells. For RNA viruses, it is believed that IFN is triggered exclusively by viral double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) or RNA containing a 5′-triphosphate (5′-ppp) that is produced during viral genome replication or transcription driven by viral replicases. Here, we provide strong evidence suggesting that the viral replicase also generates 5′-ppp dsRNA using cellular RNA templates, which trigger IFN. This finding indicates that viral replicase is capable of activating the host innate immune response, deviating from the paradigm that viral nucleic acid replication or transcription must be initiated in the host cell to trigger IFN production. Using Semliki Forest virus (SFV) as a model, we show that the magnitude of innate immune response activation by the viral replicase plays a decisive role in establishing viral infection. We demonstrate that in contrast to the wild-type SFV replicase, a non-pathogenic mutant replicase triggers increased IFN production, which leads to a shutdown of virus replication. Consequently, excessive IFN induction by the viral replicase can be dangerous for an RNA virus. Thus, we delineate a novel mechanism by which an RNA virus triggers the host cell immune response leading to RNA virus replication shutdown.
PMCID: PMC3764220  PMID: 24039580
21.  The Prevalence of STIV c92-Like Proteins in Acidic Thermal Environments 
Advances in Virology  2011;2011:650930.
A new type of viral-induced lysis system has recently been discovered for two unrelated archaeal viruses, STIV and SIRV2. Prior to the lysis of the infected host cell, unique pyramid-like lysis structures are formed on the cell surface by the protrusion of the underlying cell membrane through the overlying external S-layer. It is through these pyramid structures that assembled virions are released during lysis. The STIV viral protein c92 is responsible for the formation of these lysis structures. We searched for c92-like proteins in viral sequences present in multiple viral and cellular metagenomic libraries from Yellowstone National Park acidic hot spring environments. Phylogenetic analysis of these proteins demonstrates that, although c92-like proteins are detected in these environments, some are quite divergent and may represent new viral families. We hypothesize that this new viral lysis system is common within diverse archaeal viral populations found within acidic hot springs.
PMCID: PMC3265310  PMID: 22312348
22.  Virion Architecture Unifies Globally Distributed Pleolipoviruses Infecting Halophilic Archaea 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(9):5067-5079.
Our understanding of the third domain of life, Archaea, has greatly increased since its establishment some 20 years ago. The increasing information on archaea has also brought their viruses into the limelight. Today, about 100 archaeal viruses are known, which is a low number compared to the numbers of characterized bacterial or eukaryotic viruses. Here, we have performed a comparative biological and structural study of seven pleomorphic viruses infecting extremely halophilic archaea. The pleomorphic nature of this novel virion type was established by sedimentation analysis and cryo-electron microscopy. These nonlytic viruses form virions characterized by a lipid vesicle enclosing the genome, without any nucleoproteins. The viral lipids are unselectively acquired from host cell membranes. The virions contain two to three major structural proteins, which either are embedded in the membrane or form spikes distributed randomly on the external membrane surface. Thus, the most important step during virion assembly is most likely the interaction of the membrane proteins with the genome. The interaction can be driven by single-stranded or double-stranded DNA, resulting in the virions having similar architectures but different genome types. Based on our comparative study, these viruses probably form a novel group, which we define as pleolipoviruses.
PMCID: PMC3347350  PMID: 22357279
23.  Evolutionary connection between the catalytic subunits of DNA-dependent RNA polymerases and eukaryotic RNA-dependent RNA polymerases and the origin of RNA polymerases 
The eukaryotic RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RDRP) is involved in the amplification of regulatory microRNAs during post-transcriptional gene silencing. This enzyme is highly conserved in most eukaryotes but is missing in archaea and bacteria. No evolutionary relationship between RDRP and other polymerases has been reported so far, hence the origin of this eukaryote-specific polymerase remains a mystery.
Using extensive sequence profile searches, we identified bacteriophage homologs of the eukaryotic RDRP. The comparison of the eukaryotic RDRP and their homologs from bacteriophages led to the delineation of the conserved portion of these enzymes, which is predicted to harbor the catalytic site. Further, detailed sequence comparison, aided by examination of the crystal structure of the DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (DDRP), showed that the RDRP and the β' subunit of DDRP (and its orthologs in archaea and eukaryotes) contain a conserved double-psi β-barrel (DPBB) domain. This DPBB domain contains the signature motif DbDGD (b is a bulky residue), which is conserved in all RDRPs and DDRPs and contributes to catalysis via a coordinated divalent cation. Apart from the DPBB domain, no similarity was detected between RDRP and DDRP, which leaves open two scenarios for the origin of RDRP: i) RDRP evolved at the onset of the evolution of eukaryotes via a duplication of the DDRP β' subunit followed by dramatic divergence that obliterated the sequence similarity outside the core catalytic domain and ii) the primordial RDRP, which consisted primarily of the DPBB domain, evolved from a common ancestor with the DDRP at a very early stage of evolution, during the RNA world era. The latter hypothesis implies that RDRP had been subsequently eliminated from cellular life forms and might have been reintroduced into the eukaryotic genomes through a bacteriophage. Sequence and structure analysis of the DDRP led to further insights into the evolution of RNA polymerases. In addition to the β' subunit, β subunit of DDRP also contains a DPBB domain, which is, however, distorted by large inserts and does not harbor a counterpart of the DbDGD motif. The DPBB domains of the two DDRP subunits together form the catalytic cleft, with the domain from the β' subunit supplying the metal-coordinating DbDGD motif and the one from the β subunit providing two lysine residues involved in catalysis. Given that the two DPBB domains of DDRP contribute completely different sets of active residues to the catalytic center, it is hypothesized that the ultimate ancestor of RNA polymerases functioned as a homodimer of a generic, RNA-binding DPBB domain. This ancestral protein probably did not have catalytic activity and served as a cofactor for a ribozyme RNA polymerase. Subsequent evolution of DDRP and RDRP involved accretion of distinct sets of additional domains. In the DDRPs, these included a RNA-binding Zn-ribbon, an AT-hook-like module and a sandwich-barrel hybrid motif (SBHM) domain. Further, lineage-specific accretion of SBHM domains and other, DDRP-specific domains is observed in bacterial DDRPs. In contrast, the orthologs of the β' subunit in archaea and eukaryotes contains a four-stranded α + β domain that is shared with the α-subunit of bacterial DDRP, eukaryotic DDRP subunit RBP11, translation factor eIF1 and type II topoisomerases. The additional domains of the RDRPs remain to be characterized.
Eukaryotic RNA-dependent RNA polymerases share the catalytic double-psi β-barrel domain, containing a signature metal-coordinating motif, with the universally conserved β' subunit of DNA-dependent RNA polymerases. Beyond this core catalytic domain, the two classes of RNA polymerases do not have common domains, suggesting early divergence from a common ancestor, with subsequent independent domain accretion. The β-subunit of DDRP contains another, highly diverged DPBB domain. The presence of two distinct DPBB domains in two subunits of DDRP is compatible with the hypothesis that the ultimate ancestor of RNA polymerases was a RNA-binding DPBB domain that had no catalytic activity but rather functioned as a homodimeric cofactor for a ribozyme polymerase.
PMCID: PMC151600  PMID: 12553882
24.  Natural and Experimental Infection of Caenorhabditis Nematodes by Novel Viruses Related to Nodaviruses 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(1):e1000586.
Novel viruses have been discovered in wild Caenorahbditis nematode isolates and can now be used to explore host antiviral pathways, nematode ecology, and host-pathogen co-evolution.
An ideal model system to study antiviral immunity and host-pathogen co-evolution would combine a genetically tractable small animal with a virus capable of naturally infecting the host organism. The use of C. elegans as a model to define host-viral interactions has been limited by the lack of viruses known to infect nematodes. From wild isolates of C. elegans and C. briggsae with unusual morphological phenotypes in intestinal cells, we identified two novel RNA viruses distantly related to known nodaviruses, one infecting specifically C. elegans (Orsay virus), the other C. briggsae (Santeuil virus). Bleaching of embryos cured infected cultures demonstrating that the viruses are neither stably integrated in the host genome nor transmitted vertically. 0.2 µm filtrates of the infected cultures could infect cured animals. Infected animals continuously maintained viral infection for 6 mo (∼50 generations), demonstrating that natural cycles of horizontal virus transmission were faithfully recapitulated in laboratory culture. In addition to infecting the natural C. elegans isolate, Orsay virus readily infected laboratory C. elegans mutants defective in RNAi and yielded higher levels of viral RNA and infection symptoms as compared to infection of the corresponding wild-type N2 strain. These results demonstrated a clear role for RNAi in the defense against this virus. Furthermore, different wild C. elegans isolates displayed differential susceptibility to infection by Orsay virus, thereby affording genetic approaches to defining antiviral loci. This discovery establishes a bona fide viral infection system to explore the natural ecology of nematodes, host-pathogen co-evolution, the evolution of small RNA responses, and innate antiviral mechanisms.
Author Summary
The nematode C. elegans is a robust model organism that is broadly used in biology. It also has great potential for the study of host-microbe interactions, as it is possible to systematically knockout almost every gene in high-throughput fashion to examine the potential role of each gene in infection. While C. elegans has been successfully applied to the study of bacterial infections, only limited studies of antiviral responses have been possible since no virus capable of infecting any Caenorhabditis nematode in laboratory culture has previously been described. Here we report the discovery of natural viruses infecting wild isolates of C. elegans and its relative C. briggsae. These novel viruses are most closely related to the ssRNA nodaviruses, but have larger genomes than other described nodaviruses and clearly represent a new taxon of virus. We were able to use these viruses to infect a variety of laboratory nematode strains. We show that mutant worms defective in the RNA interference pathway, an antiviral system known to operate in a number of organisms, accumulate more viral RNA than wild type strains. The discovery of these viruses will enable further studies of host-virus interactions in C. elegans and the identification of other host mechanisms that counter viral infection.
PMCID: PMC3026760  PMID: 21283608
25.  Ecology and evolution of viruses infecting uncultivated SUP05 bacteria as revealed by single-cell- and meta-genomics 
eLife  2014;3:e03125.
Viruses modulate microbial communities and alter ecosystem functions. However, due to cultivation bottlenecks, specific virus–host interaction dynamics remain cryptic. In this study, we examined 127 single-cell amplified genomes (SAGs) from uncultivated SUP05 bacteria isolated from a model marine oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) to identify 69 viral contigs representing five new genera within dsDNA Caudovirales and ssDNA Microviridae. Infection frequencies suggest that ∼1/3 of SUP05 bacteria is viral-infected, with higher infection frequency where oxygen-deficiency was most severe. Observed Microviridae clonality suggests recovery of bloom-terminating viruses, while systematic co-infection between dsDNA and ssDNA viruses posits previously unrecognized cooperation modes. Analyses of 186 microbial and viral metagenomes revealed that SUP05 viruses persisted for years, but remained endemic to the OMZ. Finally, identification of virus-encoded dissimilatory sulfite reductase suggests SUP05 viruses reprogram their host's energy metabolism. Together, these results demonstrate closely coupled SUP05 virus–host co-evolutionary dynamics with the potential to modulate biogeochemical cycling in climate-critical and expanding OMZs.
eLife digest
Microorganisms help to drive a number of processes that recycle energy and nutrients, including elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, around the Earth's ecosystems. Viruses that infect microbes can also affect these cycles by killing and breaking open microbial cells, or by reprogramming the cell's metabolism. However, as there are many different species of microbes and viruses —the vast majority of which cannot easily be grown in the laboratory— little is known about most virus–host interactions in natural ecosystems, especially in the oceans.
In the world's oceans, the concentration of oxygen dissolved in the water changes in different regions and at different depths. ‘Oxygen minimum zones’ occur globally throughout the oceans at depths of 200–1000 meters, and climate change is causing these zones to expand and intensify. Although a lack of oxygen is sometimes considered detrimental to living organisms, oxygen minimum zones appear to be rich with microbial life that is adapted to thrive under oxygen-starved conditions.
Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are one of the most abundant groups of microbes in these oxygen minimum zones, and several of these bacteria are known to influence the recycling of chemical substances. Now, Roux et al. introduce a new method to identify viruses that infect the microbes in this environment, including those microbes that cannot be grown in the laboratory and which have previously remained largely unexplored.
The genomes of 127 individual bacterial cells —collected from an oxygen minimum zone in western Canada— were examined. Roux et al. estimate that about a third of the sulfur-oxidizing bacterial cells are infected by at least one virus, but often multiple viruses infected the same bacterium. Five new genera (groups of one or more species) of viruses were also discovered and found to infect these bacteria. Looking for these new viral sequences in the DNA of this oxygen minimum zone's microbial community revealed that these newly discovered viruses persist in this region over several years. It also revealed that these viruses appear to only be found within the oxygen minimum zone. Roux et al. uncovered that these viruses carry genes that could manipulate how an infected bacterium processes sulfur-containing compounds; this is similar to previous observations showing that other viruses also influence cellular process (such as photosynthesis) in infected bacteria. As such, these newly discovered viruses might also influence the recycling of chemical elements within oxygen minimum zones.
Together, Roux et al.'s findings provide an unprecedented look into a wild virus community using a method that can be generalized to uncover viruses in a data type that is quickly becoming more widespread: single cell genomes. This effort to understand virus–host interactions by looking in the genomes of individual cells now sets the stage for future efforts aimed to uncover the impact of viruses on bacteria in other environments across the globe.
PMCID: PMC4164917  PMID: 25171894
SUP05; bacteriophages; viruses; single cell genomics; oxygen minimum zone; viral dark matter; other

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