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A novel picorna-like virus in a Wabash Pigtoe (Fusconaia flava) from the upper Mississippi River, USA

December 19, 2019

Unionid mussels are threatened by multiple environmental stressors and have experienced mass mortality events over the last several decades, but the role of infectious disease in unionid health and population declines remains poorly understood. Although several microbial agents have been found in unionids, to date only one virus has been documented—Lea plague virus (Arenaviridae) in propagated Triangle Shell mussels (Hyriopsis cumingii) in China. We used next-generation DNA sequencing to screen hemolymph of seven individuals of five unionid species from the Upper Mississippi River basin, USA for viruses. We identified the complete polyprotein gene of a novel picornalike virus in one individual of the Wabash Pigtoe (Fusconaia flava). The virus is a member of the Nora virus clade of picornalike viruses and is most closely related to viruses from arthropods in China. We did not detect viruses in another Wabash Pigtoe or in animals of the other four species. It is premature to make inferences about the role of this virus in the health of Wabash Pigtoes or other unionid species or the origin or transmission of this virus. Nevertheless, to our knowledge, our results represent the first report of a virus in wild North American unionids. Technologies based on next-generation DNA sequencing should prove useful for identifying new viruses and investigating their role in unionid health and disease.