Real-time PCR systems targeting giant viruses of amoebae and their virophages.Intervirology. 2013; 56(6):413-23.I
Giant viruses that infect amoebae, including mimiviruses and marseilleviruses, were first described in 2003. Virophages were subsequently described that infect mimiviruses. Culture isolation with Acanthamoeba spp. and metagenomic studies have shown that these giant viruses are common inhabitants of our biosphere and have enabled the recent detection of these viruses in human samples. However, the genomes of these viruses display substantial genetic diversity, making it a challenge to examine their presence in environmental and clinical samples using conventional and real-time PCR. We designed and evaluated the performance of PCR systems capable of detecting all currently isolated mimiviruses, marseilleviruses and virophages to assess their prevalence in various samples. Our real-time PCR assays accurately detected all or most of the members of the currently delineated lineages of giant viruses infecting acanthamoebae as well as the mimivirus virophages, and enabled accurate classification of the mimiviruses of amoebae in lineages A, B or C. We were able to detect four new mimiviruses directly from environmental samples and correctly classified these viruses within mimivirus lineage C. This was subsequently confirmed by culture on amoebae followed by partial Sanger sequencing. PCR systems such as those implemented here may contribute to an improved understanding of the prevalence of mimiviruses, their virophages and marseilleviruses in humans.