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Unprecedented Diversity of ssDNA Phages from the Family Microviridae Detected within the Gut of a Protochordate Model Organism (Ciona robusta)

By: Alexandria Creasy, Karyna Rosario, Brittany A. Leigh, Larry J. Dishaw, and Mya Breitbart

Abstract

Phages (viruses that infect bacteria) play important roles in the gut ecosystem through infection of bacterial hosts, yet the gut virome remains poorly characterized. Mammalian gut viromes are dominated by double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) phages belonging to the order Caudovirales and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) phages belonging to the family Microviridae. Since the relative proportion of each of these phage groups appears to correlate with age and health status in humans, it is critical to understand both ssDNA and dsDNA phages in the gut. Building upon prior research describing dsDNA viruses in the gut of Ciona robusta, a marine invertebrate model system used to study gut microbial interactions, this study investigated ssDNA phages found in the Ciona gut. We identified 258 Microviridae genomes, which were dominated by novel members of the Gokushovirinae subfamily, but also represented several proposed phylogenetic groups (Alpavirinae, Aravirinae, Group D, Parabacteroides prophages, and Pequeñovirus) and a novel group. Comparative analyses between Ciona specimens with full and cleared guts, as well as the surrounding water, indicated that Ciona retains a distinct and highly diverse community of ssDNA phages. This study significantly expands the known diversity within the Microviridae family and demonstrates the promise of Ciona as a model system for investigating their role in animal health.

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