Viral genomes are characterised by having high gene density and complex transcription strategies. One of the most complex is adenovirus which has a double stranded DNA genome and is the archetypal viral system in which splicing was first discovered. Understanding the transcriptional landscape using conventional mRNA cloning or more recent Illumina-based deep sequencing methods offers insight but also has limitations, including the potential for reverse transcription or PCR amplification artefacts and bias. Here we used direct RNA long read length sequencing on an Oxford Nanopore MinION device to gain a quantitative system-wide overview of transcription and splicing as it dynamically changes during a human adenovirus type 5 infection. This global overview revealed an extensive and hitherto unappreciated complexity of alternative splicing and secondary initiating codon usage. Allied to this, analysis of viral polyadenylation patterns over time showed that most viral transcripts tended to shorter polyadenylation lengths as the infection progressed. Moreover, development and use of an ORF-centric bioinformatics pipeline for analysis of sequenced mRNA, provided both a quantitative and deeper qualitative understanding of the genetic potential of this virus. The data strikingly illustrated that across the viral genome adenovirus made multiple distinctly spliced transcripts that coded for the same ORF. Indeed, as many as 11,000 different splicing patterns were recorded across the viral genome over the three time points analysed. This constitutive low level use of alternative splicing patterns and secondary ORFs potentially enables the virus to maximise its coding potential over evolutionary timescales.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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