Metagenomics detection and characterisation of viruses in faecal samples from Australian wild birds

Lay summary

APPRISE researchers and colleagues have used a new “next generation” genetic sequencing method to improve our understanding of viruses in wild birds with the potential to infect other species (zoonotic viruses). The method can be broadly applied to allowing identification of host species, parasites present, food eaten and faecal bacterial populations.

Scientific abstract

We present an optimised metagenomics method for detection and characterisation of all virus types including single and double stranded DNA/RNA and enveloped and non-enveloped viruses. Initial evaluation included both spiked and non-spiked bird faecal samples as well as non-spiked human faecal samples. From the non-spiked bird samples (Australian Muscovy duck and Pacific black ducks) we detected 21 viruses, and we also present a summary of a few viruses detected in human faecal samples. We then present a detailed analysis of selected virus sequences in the avian samples that were somewhat similar to known viruses, and had good quality (Q20 or higher) and quantity of next-generation sequencing reads, and was of interest from a virological point of view, for example, avian coronavirus and avian paramyxovirus 6. Some of these viruses were closely related to known viruses while others were more distantly related with 70% or less identity to currently known/sequenced viruses. Besides detecting viruses, the technique also allowed the characterisation of host mitochondrial DNA present and thus identifying host species, while ribosomal RNA sequences provided insight into the “ribosomal activity microbiome”; of gut parasites; and of food eaten such as plants or insects, which we correlated to non-avian host associated viruses.

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