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A novel gyrovirus is abundant in yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) chicks with a fatal respiratory disease

Abstract

Yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes), or hoiho in te reo Ma over bar ori, are predicted to become extinct on mainland Aotearoa New Zealand in the next few decades, with infectious disease a significant contributor to their decline. A recent disease phenomenon termed respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) causing lung pathology has been identified in very young chicks. To date, no causative pathogens for RDS have been identified. In 2020 and 2021, the number of chick deaths from suspected RDS increased four- and five-fold, respectively, causing mass mortality with an estimated mortality rate of >90%. We aimed to identify possible pathogens responsible for RDS disease impacting these critically endangered yellow-eyed penguins. Total RNA was extracted from tissue samples collected during post-mortem of 43 dead chicks and subject to metatranscriptomic sequencing and histological examination. From these data we identified a novel and highly abundant gyrovirus (Anelloviridae) in 80% of tissue samples. This virus was most closely related to Gyrovirus 8 discovered in a diseased seabird, while other members of the genus Gyrovirus include Chicken anaemia virus, which causes severe disease in juvenile chickens. No other exogenous viral transcripts were identified in these tissues. Due to the high relative abundance of viral reads and its high prevalence in diseased animals, it is likely that this novel gyrovirus is associated with RDS in yellow-eyed penguin chicks.

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