Strains of the astaxanthin producing yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous have been isolated from different cold regions around the earth, and the presence of double stranded RNA (dsRNA) elements was described in some isolates. This kind of viruses is widely distributed among yeasts and filamentous fungi and, although generally are cryptic in function, their studies have been a key factor in the knowledge of important fungi. In this work, the characterization and genetic relationships among dsRNA elements were determined in strains representatives of almost all regions of the earth where X. dendrorhous have been isolated.
Almost all strains of X. dendrorhous analyzed carry one, two or four dsRNA elements, of molecular sizes in the range from 0.8 to 5.0 kb. Different dsRNA-patterns were observed in strains with different geographic origin, being L1 (5.0 kb) the common dsRNA element. By hybridization assays a high genomic polymorphism was observed among L1 dsRNAs of different X. dendrorhous strains. Contrary, hybridization was observed between L1 and L2 dsRNAs of strains from same or different regions, while the dsRNA elements of minor sizes (M, S1, and S2) present in several strains did not show hybridization with neither L1 or L2 dsRNAs. Along the growth curve of UCD 67-385 (harboring four dsRNAs) an increase of L2 relative to L1 dsRNA was observed, whiles the S1/L1 ratio remains constant, as well as the M/L1 ratio of Patagonian strain. Strains cured of S2 dsRNA were obtained by treatment with anisomycin, and comparison of its dsRNA contents with uncured strain, revealed an increase of L1 dsRNA while the L2 and S1 dsRNA remain unaltered.
The dsRNA elements of X. dendrorhous are highly variable in size and sequence, and the dsRNA pattern is specific to the geographic region of isolation. Each L1 and L2 dsRNA are viral elements able to self replicate and to coexist into a cell, and L1 and S2 dsRNAs elements could be part of a helper/satellite virus system in X. dendrorhous.