Although RNA viruses are likely to exist in every species of cellular life, our knowledge of their biodiversity and evolution has been focused on those that can cause disease in humans and in economically important animals and plants. Recently published studies, however, have shown that every healthy organism can carry viruses. In this study, we present the unbiased discovery of highly divergent RNA viruses in European rodents and rabbits using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). Tissue samples from different organs were collected from UK rodents and French rabbits and were initially screened for viruses with PCR. Following up on preliminary data, the positive samples were sent for NGS to acquire full genomes and perform unbiased virus discovery. Our findings encompass a number of novel viruses including astrovirus, rotavirus A, hantavirus, picornavirus, coronavirus, paramyxovirus etc. Among the novel viruses, the picornavirus interestingly showed 50 % and 34 % similarity to the closest relative for the non-structural and the structural protein respectively at amino acid level, suggesting a potentially novel genus within the family. This study shows the presence of highly divergent RNA viruses in European rodents and rabbits enriching thus our current knowledge of their origin and evolution. Finally, this study shows that these animal species can be the reservoirs of RNA viruses notorious for cross-species transmission, increasing the risk of a spill-over to humans or livestock.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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