Multicomponent Virus Discovered to Infect Animals

October 4, 2016
Jenina Pellegren

Recently, scientists with the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) have identified a new virus that contains different segments of genetic material in separate particles, otherwise known as a “multicomponent” virus.

Recently, scientists with the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) have identified a new virus that contains different segments of genetic material in separate particles, otherwise known as a “multicomponent” virus.

The Guaico Culex Virus (GCXV) is a “multicomponent” virus, that has been isolated from several species of mosquito around the world. GCXV does not appear to infect animals. However, a related isolate, the Jingmen Tick Virus (JMTV) was also taken from a nonhuman primate, which suggests potential infections in animals. First described in 2014, Jingmenviruses are related to flaviviruses—a family of viruses that include yellow fever and West Nile virus.

Investigators found the virus in a red colobus monkey in Kibale National Park in Uganda. According to USAMRIID investigators and a group from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “The animal showed no signs of disease when the sample was taken, so it is not known whether the virus had a pathogenic effect.”

This research suggests this could be relevant in terms of animal and human health when considering the diversity of the host range. In a press release from USAMRIID, Jason Ladner, PhD, explains, “Animal viruses typically have all genome segments packaged together into a single viral particle, so only one of those particles is needed to infect a host cell but, in a multicomponent virus, the genome is divided into multiple pieces, with each one packaged separately into a viral particle. At least one particle of each type is required for cell infection.”

The research, supported in part by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, was a collaborative effort between USAMRIID, the University of Texas, and the New York State Department of Health. The team collected mosquitoes from around the world and extracted sequenced virus.

In the press release, senior author Gustavo Palacios, PhD, who directs USAMRIID’s Center for Genome Sciences says, “This study allowed us to utilize all our tools—and even though this virus does not appear to affect mammals, we are continuing to refine those tools so we can be better prepared for the next outbreak of disease that could have an impact on human health.”

The virus GCXV is named for the Guaico region of Trinidad where the mosquito that contained it was found. This type of organism is found in several plant pathogens but this study marks the first multicomponent virus that infects animals. Experts cannot predict but do believe that the infectious viruses most likely to emerge next in humans are those already affecting other mammals, particularly nonhuman primates. Taken all together, the evidence is strong that multicomponent animal viruses exist.