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Keywords:

  • algal viruses;
  • Heterosigma akashiwo ;
  • phytoplankton viruses;
  • viral diversity

HaRNAV, a novel virus that infects the toxic bloom-forming alga Heterosigma akashiwo (Hada) Hada ex Hada et Chihara, was characterized based on morphology, pathology, nucleic acid type, structural proteins, and the range of host strains that it infects. HaRNAV is a 25-nm single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) virus with a genome size of approximately 9100 nucleotides. This is the first report of an ssRNA virus that causes lysis of a phytoplankton species. The virus particle is sensitive to chloroform and contains at least five structural proteins ranging in apparent size from 24 to 34 kDa. HaRNAV infection causes swelling of the endoplasmic reticulum and progeny virus particles assemble in the cytoplasm of the host, frequently in crystalline arrays. The infectivity of HaRNAV was tested against 15 strains of H. akashiwo isolated from Japanese waters, the Northeast Pacific, and the Northwest Atlantic. HaRNAV caused lysis of three strains from the Northeast Pacific and two strains from Japan but none from the Northwest Atlantic. The characterization of HaRNAV demonstrates that HaRNAV is a novel type of phytoplankton virus but has some similarities with plant viruses belonging to the Sequiviridae and to other known ssRNA viruses. Further genomic analysis, however, is necessary to determine any phylogenetic relationships. The discovery of HaRNAV emphasizes the diversity of H. akashiwo viral pathogens and, more importantly, algal–virus pathogens and the complexity of virus–host interactions in the environment.