Sequence comparison of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerases of small round-structured viruses (SRSVs) from 10 recent U.K. outbreaks of gastroenteritis revealed significant genetic variation. Computer analyses indicated that these viruses can be divided into two discrete groups. SRSV group I contains the previously characterized antigenic type 1 Norwalk and type 3 Southampton viruses. The amino acid sequences of the RNA polymerase, capsid and ORF3 of these two viruses are relatively similar (about 92%, 69% and 72% amino acid identity, respectively). A representative member of group II SRSVs, Bristol virus, was subjected to a detailed genetic analysis. Bristol virus is a recent antigenic type 2 isolate from a U.K. hospital outbreak of gastroenteritis. Using a single clinical sample the 3′-terminal 3881 nucleotide cDNA sequence [excluding the poly(A) tail] of this virus was determined. Analysis of the sequence revealed significant differences from those of group I viruses with the RNA polymerase region, capsid and ORF3 showing only about 62%, 43% and 30% amino acid identity respectively with the equivalent proteins of the Norwalk and Southampton viruses. These data suggest that the morphologically identical SRSVs belong to at least two genetically distinct groups.


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