The order Nidovirales comprises viruses from the families Coronaviridae (genera Coronavirus and Torovirus), Roniviridae (genus Okavirus), and Arteriviridae (genus Arterivirus). In this study, we characterized White bream virus (WBV), a bacilliform plus-strand RNA virus isolated from fish. Analysis of the nucleotide sequence, organization, and expression of the 26.6-kb genome provided conclusive evidence for a phylogenetic relationship between WBV and nidoviruses. The polycistronic genome of WBV contains five open reading frames (ORFs), called ORF1a, -1b, -2, -3, and -4. In WBV-infected cells, three subgenomic RNAs expressing the structural proteins S, M, and N were identified. The subgenomic RNAs were revealed to share a 42-nucleotide, 5' leader sequence that is identical to the 5'-terminal genome sequence. The data suggest that a conserved nonanucleotide sequence, CA(G/A)CACUAC, located downstream of the leader and upstream of the structural protein genes acts as the core transcription-regulating sequence element in WBV. Like other nidoviruses with large genomes (>26 kb), WBV encodes in its ORF1b an extensive set of enzymes, including putative polymerase, helicase, ribose methyltransferase, exoribonuclease, and endoribonuclease activities. ORF1a encodes several membrane domains, a putative ADP-ribose 1"-phosphatase, and a chymotrypsin-like serine protease whose activity was established in this study. Comparative sequence analysis revealed that WBV represents a separate cluster of nidoviruses that significantly diverged from toroviruses and, even more, from coronaviruses, roniviruses, and arteriviruses. The study adds to the amazing diversity of nidoviruses and appeals for a more extensive characterization of nonmammalian nidoviruses to better understand the evolution of these largest known RNA viruses.
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