Viruses infecting the Archaea harbor a tremendous amount of genetic diversity. This is especially true for the spindle-shaped viruses of the family Fuselloviridae, where >90% of the viral genes do not have detectable homologs in public databases. This significantly limits our ability to elucidate the role of viral proteins in the infection cycle. To address this, we have developed genetic techniques to study the well-characterized fusellovirus Sulfolobus spindle-shaped virus 1 (SSV1) which infects Sulfolobus solfataricus in volcanic hot springs at 80°C and pH 3.
Here, we present a new comparative genome analysis and a thorough genetic analysis of SSV1 using both specific and random mutagenesis and thereby generate mutations in all ORFs. We demonstrate that almost half of the SSV1 genes are not essential for infectivity and the requirement for a particular gene correlates well with its degree of conservation within the Fuselloviridae. The major capsid gene vp1 is essential for SSV1 infectivity. However, the universally conserved minor capsid gene vp3 could be deleted without a loss in infectivity and results in virions with abnormal morphology.
Importance: Most of the putative genes in the spindle-shaped archaeal hyperthermophile Fuselloviruses have no clearly similar sequences to characterized genes. In order to determine which of these SSV genes are important for function we disrupted all of the putative genes in the prototypical fusellovirus, SSV1. Surprisingly, about half of the genes could be disrupted without destroying virus function. Even deletions of one of the known structural protein genes that is present in all known Fuselloviruses, vp3, allow the production of infectious viruses. However, viruses lacking vp3 have abnormal shapes, indicating that the vp3 gene is important for virus structure. Identification of essential genes will allow focused research on minimal SSV genomes and further understanding of the structure of these unique, ubiquitous and extremely stable archaeal viruses.