Background. Targeted enrichment improves coverage of highly mutable viruses at low concentration in complex samples. Degenerate primers that anneal to conserved regions can facilitate amplification of divergent, low concentration variants, even when the strain present is unknown. Results. A tool for designing multiplex sets of degenerate sequencing primers to tile overlapping amplicons across multiple whole genomes is described. The new script, run_tiled_primers, is part of the PriMux software. Primers were designed for each segment of South American hemorrhagic fever viruses, tick-borne encephalitis, Henipaviruses, Arenaviruses, Filoviruses, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, Rift Valley fever virus, and Japanese encephalitis virus. Each group is highly diverse with as little as 5% genome consensus. Primer sets were computationally checked for nontarget cross reactions against the NCBI nucleotide sequence database. Primers for murine hepatitis virus were demonstrated in the lab to specifically amplify selected genes from a laboratory cultured strain that had undergone extensive passage in vitro and in vivo. Conclusions. This software should help researchers design multiplex sets of primers for targeted whole genome enrichment prior to sequencing to obtain better coverage of low titer, divergent viruses. Applications include viral discovery from a complex background and improved sensitivity and coverage of rapidly evolving strains or variants in a gene family.
Ancient human remains of paleopathological interest typically contain highly degraded DNA in which pathogenic taxa are often minority components, making sequence-based metagenomic characterization costly. Microarrays may hold a potential solution to these challenges, offering a rapid, affordable, and highly informative snapshot of microbial diversity in complex samples without the lengthy analysis and/or high cost associated with high-throughput sequencing. Their versatility is well established for modern clinical specimens, but they have yet to be applied to ancient remains. Here we report bacterial profiles of archaeological and historical human remains using the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA). The array successfully identified previously-verified bacterial human pathogens, including Vibrio cholerae (cholera) in a 19th century intestinal specimen and Yersinia pestis ("Black Death" plague) in a medieval tooth, which represented only minute fractions (0.03% and 0.08% alignable high-throughput shotgun sequencing reads) of their respective DNA content. This demonstrates that the LLMDA can identify primary and/or co-infecting bacterial pathogens in ancient samples, thereby serving as a rapid and inexpensive paleopathological screening tool to study health across both space and time.
One of the hurdles to understanding the role of viral quasispecies in RNA virus cross-species transmission (CST) events is the need to analyze a densely sampled outbreak using deep sequencing in order to measure the amount of mutation occurring on a small time scale. In 2009, the California Department of Public Health reported a dramatic increase (350) in the number of gray foxes infected with a rabies virus variant for which striped skunks serve as a reservoir host in Humboldt County. To better understand the evolution of rabies, deep-sequencing was applied to 40 unpassaged rabies virus samples from the Humboldt outbreak. For each sample, approximately 11 kb of the 12 kb genome was amplified and sequenced using the Illumina platform. Average coverage was 17,448 and this allowed characterization of the rabies virus population present in each sample at unprecedented depths. Phylogenetic analysis of the consensus sequence data demonstrated that samples clustered according to date (1995 vs. 2009) and geographic location (northern vs. southern). A single amino acid change in the G protein distinguished a subset of northern foxes from a haplotype present in both foxes and skunks, suggesting this mutation may have played a role in the observed increased transmission among foxes in this region. Deep-sequencing data indicated that many genetic changes associated with the CST event occurred prior to 2009 since several nonsynonymous mutations that were present in the consensus sequences of skunk and fox rabies samples obtained from 20032010 were present at the sub-consensus level (as rare variants in the viral population) in skunk and fox samples from 1995. These results suggest that analysis of rare variants within a viral population may yield clues to ancestral genomes and identify rare variants that have the potential to be selected for if environment conditions change.
High throughput sequencing is beginning to make a transformative impact in the area of viral evolution. Deep sequencing has the potential to reveal the mutant spectrum within a viral sample at high resolution, thus enabling the close examination of viral mutational dynamics both within- and between-hosts. The challenge however, is to accurately model the errors in the sequencing data and differentiate real viral mutations, particularly those that exist at low frequencies, from sequencing errors.
The high mutation rate of RNA viruses enables a diverse genetic population of viral genotypes to exist within a single infected host. In-host genetic diversity could better position the virus population to respond and adapt to a diverse array of selective pressures such as host-switching events. Multiple new coronaviruses, including SARS, have been identified in human samples just within the last ten years, demonstrating the potential of coronaviruses as emergent human pathogens. Deep sequencing was used to characterize genomic changes in coronavirus quasispecies during simulated host-switching. Three bovine nasal samples infected with bovine coronavirus were used to infect human and bovine macrophage and lung cell lines. The virus reproduced relatively well in macrophages, but the lung cell lines were not infected efficiently enough to allow passage of non lab-adapted samples. Approximately 12 kb of the genome was amplified before and after passage and sequenced at average coverages of nearly 950×(454 sequencing) and 38,000×(Illumina). The consensus sequence of many of the passaged samples had a 12 nucleotide insert in the consensus sequence of the spike gene, and multiple point mutations were associated with the presence of the insert. Deep sequencing revealed that the insert was present but very rare in the unpassaged samples and could quickly shift to dominate the population when placed in a different environment. The insert coded for three arginine residues, occurred in a region associated with fusion entry into host cells, and may allow infection of new cell types via heparin sulfate binding. Analysis of the deep sequencing data indicated that two distinct genotypes circulated at different frequency levels in each sample, and support the hypothesis that the mutations present in passaged strains were "selected" from a pre-existing pool rather than through de novo mutation and subsequent population fixation.
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