Meeting Abstract

19-4  Thursday, Jan. 5 11:15 - 11:30  Applying Metagenomic Sequencing to Search for the Cause of an Elusive Avian Disease: Avian Keratin Disorder in Black-capped Chickadees ZYLBERBERG, M*; VAN HEMERT, C; DUMBACHER, JP; HANDEL, CM; TIHAN, T; DERISI, JL; University of California, San Francisco; California Academy of Sciences; US Geological Survey; California Academy of Sciences; US Geological Survey; University of California, San Francisco; University of California, San Francisco; Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Avian keratin disorder (AKD), characterized by debilitating overgrowth of the avian beak, was first documented in black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) in Alaska. Subsequently, similar deformities have appeared in numerous species across continents. Despite the widespread distribution of this emerging pathology, the cause of AKD remains elusive. As a result, it is unknown if suspected cases of AKD in the afflicted species are causally linked, and the impacts of this pathology at the population- and community-level are difficult to evaluate. We apply unbiased, metagenomic next-generation sequencing to search for candidate pathogens in birds affected with AKD. We identify and sequence the complete coding region of a novel picornavirus, which we are calling Poecivirus. Subsequent screening of 26 AKD-affected black-capped chickadees and 17 control individuals for the presence of Poecivirus revealed that 26/26 (100%) of AKD-affected individuals were positive, while only 4/17 (23%) of control individuals were infected with Poecivirus. Individuals of other species with AKD-consistent pathology, including two northwestern crows (Corvus caurinus), and two red-breasted nuthatches (Sitta canadensis), also tested positive for Poecivirus. We suggest that Poecivirus is a candidate etiological agent of AKD.