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Total infectome investigation of diphtheritic stomatitis in yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) reveals a novel and abundant megrivirus

Abstract

First identified in 2002, diphtheritic stomatitis (DS) is a devastating disease affecting yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes, or hoiho in te reo Ma over bar ori). The disease is associated with oral lesions in chicks and has caused significant morbidity and mortality. DS is widespread among yellow-eyed penguin chicks on mainland New Zealand yet appears to be absent from the subantarctic population. Corynebacterium spp. have previously been suspected as causative agents yet, due to inconsistent cultures and inconclusive pathogenicity, their role in DS is unclear. Herein, we used a metatranscriptomic approach to identify potential causative agents of DS by revealing the presence and abundance of all viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa -together, the infectome. Oral and cloacal swab samples were collected from presymptomatic, symptomatic and recovered chicks along with a control group of healthy adults. Two novel viruses from the Picornaviridae were identified, one of which - yellow-eyed penguin megrivirus - was highly abundant in chicks irrespective of health status but not detected in healthy adults. Tissue from biopsied oral lesions also tested positive for the novel megrivirus upon PCR. We found no overall clustering among bacteria, protozoa and fungi communities at the genus level across samples, although Paraclostridium bifermentans was significantly more abundant in oral microbiota of symptomatic chicks compared to other groups. The detection of a novel and highly abundant megrivirus has sparked a new line of inquiry to investigate its potential association with DS.

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