Physicochemical properties of double-stranded RNA used to discover a reo-like virus from blue crab Callinectes sapidus
Mortality among blue crab Callinectes sapidus in soft shell production facilities is typically 25% or greater. The harvest, handling, and husbandry practices of soft shell crab production have the potential to spread or exacerbate infectious crab diseases. To investigate the possible role of viruses in soft shell crab mortalities, we took advantage of the physicochemical properties of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) to isolate a putative virus genome. Further characterization confirmed the presence of a reo-like virus that possesses 12 dsRNA genome segments. The virus was present in > 50% of dead or dying soft shell crabs, but fewer than 5% of healthy hard crabs. Injection of the virus caused mortality and resulted in the appearance of viral RNA and virus inclusions in hemocytes. The genome of the virus was partially sequenced and the information used to develop a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay that is able to detect the virus genome in as little as 7.5 pg of total RNA. The molecular tools developed during this study will allow us to quantify prevalence of the blue crab reo-like virus in captive (soft shell facilities, aquaculture operations) and wild populations and facilitate understanding of the role this virus has in blue crab life history.
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