Tomato brown rugose fruit virus Mo gene is a novel microbial source tracking marker

Microbial source tracking (MST) identifies sources of fecal contamination in the environment using fecal host-associated markers. While there are numerous bacterial MST markers, there are few viral markers. Here we design and test novel viral MST markers based on tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) genomes. We assembled eight nearly complete genomes of ToBRFV from wastewater and stool samples from the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States of America. Next, we developed two novel probe-based RT-PCR assays based on conserved regions of the ToBRFV genome and tested the markers’ sensitivities and specificities using a human and non-human animal stool as well as wastewater. The ToBRFV markers are sensitive and specific; in human stool and wastewater, they are more prevalent and abundant than a currently used marker, the pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV) coat protein (CP) gene. We applied the assays to detect fecal contamination in urban stormwater samples and found that the ToBRFV markers matched cross-assembly phage (crAssphage), an established viral MST marker, in prevalence across samples. Taken together, ToBRFV is a promising viral human-associated MST marker. Importance Human exposure to fecal contamination in the environment can cause the transmission of infectious diseases. Microbial source tracking (MST) can identify sources of fecal contamination so that contamination can be remediated and human exposures can be reduced. MST requires the use of fecal host-associated MST markers. Here we design and test novel MST markers from genomes of tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV). The markers are sensitive and specific to human stool and highly abundant in human stool and wastewater samples.

Natarajan, Aravind & Fremin, Brayon & Schmidtke, Danica & Wolfe, Marlene & Zlitni, Soumaya & Graham, Katherine & Brooks, Erin & Severyn, Christopher & Sakamoto, Katheleen & Lacayo, Norman & Kuersten, Scott & Koble, Jeffrey & Caves, Glorianna & Kaplan, Inna & Singh, Upinder & Jagannathan, Prasanna & Rezvani, Andrew & Bhatt, Ami & Boehm, Alexandria. (2023). Tomato brown rugose fruit virus Mo gene is a novel microbial source tracking marker. 10.1101/2023.01.09.523366. 

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