UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Metagenomes of a Freshwater Charavirus from British Columbia Provide a Window into Ancient Lineages of Viruses Vlok, Marli; Gibbs, Adrian J.; Suttle, Curtis A.


Charophyte algae, not chlorophyte algae, are the ancestors of ‘higher plants’; hence, viruses infecting charophytes may be related to those that first infected higher plants. Streamwaters from British Columbia, Canada, yielded single-stranded RNA metagenomes of Charavirus canadensis (CV-Can), that are similar in genomic architecture, length (9593 nt), nucleotide identity (63.4%), and encoded amino-acid sequence identity (53.0%) to those of Charavirus australis (CV-Aus). The sequences of their RNA-dependent RNA-polymerases (RdRp) resemble those found in benyviruses, their helicases those of hepaciviruses and hepegiviruses, and their coat-proteins (CP) those of tobamoviruses; all from the alphavirus/flavivirus branch of the ‘global RNA virome’. The 5’-terminus of the CV-Can genome, but not that of CV-Aus, is complete and encodes a methyltransferase domain. Comparisons of CP sequences suggests that Canadian and Australian charaviruses diverged 29–46 million years ago (mya); whereas, the CPs of charaviruses and tobamoviruses last shared a common ancestor 212 mya, and the RdRps of charaviruses and benyviruses 396 mya. CV-Can is sporadically abundant in low-nutrient freshwater rivers in British Columbia, where Chara braunii, a close relative of C. australis, occurs, and which may be its natural host. Charaviruses, like their hosts, are ancient and widely distributed, and thus provide a window to the viromes of early eukaryotes and, even, Archaea.

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