UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Variation in the Genetic Repertoire of Viruses Infecting Micromonas pusilla Reflects Horizontal Gene Transfer and Links to Their Environmental Distribution Finke, Jan F.; Winget, Danielle M.; Chan, Amy M.; Suttle, Curtis A.


Prasinophytes, a group of eukaryotic phytoplankton, has a global distribution and is infected by large double-stranded DNA viruses (prasinoviruses) in the family Phycodnaviridae. This study examines the genetic repertoire, phylogeny, and environmental distribution of phycodnaviruses infecting Micromonas pusilla, other prasinophytes and chlorophytes. Based on comparisons among the genomes of viruses infecting M. pusilla and other phycodnaviruses, as well as the genome from a host isolate of M. pusilla, viruses infecting M. pusilla (MpVs) share a limited set of core genes, but vary strongly in their flexible pan-genome that includes numerous metabolic genes, such as those associated with amino acid synthesis and sugar manipulation. Surprisingly, few of these presumably host-derived genes are shared with M. pusilla, but rather have their closest non-viral homologue in bacteria and other eukaryotes, indicating horizontal gene transfer. A comparative analysis of full-length DNA polymerase (DNApol) genes from prasinoviruses with their overall gene content, demonstrated that the phylogeny of DNApol gene fragments reflects the gene content of the viruses; hence, environmental DNApol gene sequences from prasinoviruses can be used to infer their overall genetic repertoire. Thus, the distribution of virus ecotypes across environmental samples based on DNApol sequences implies substantial underlying differences in gene content that reflect local environmental conditions. Moreover, the high diversity observed in the genetic repertoire of prasinoviruses has been driven by horizontal gene transfer throughout their evolutionary history, resulting in a broad suite of functional capabilities and a high diversity of prasinovirus ecotypes.

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