Isolation and analysis of rare norovirus recombinants from coinfected mice using drop-based microfluidics

Huidan Zhang, Shelley K. Cockrell, Abimbola O. Kolawole, Assaf Rotem, Adrian W.R. Serohijos, Connie B. Chang, Ye Tao, Thomas S. Mehoke, Yulong Han, Jeffrey S. Lin, Nicholas S. Giacobbi, Andrew B. Feldman, Eugene Shakhnovich, David A. Weitz, Christiane E. Wobus, James M. Pipas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human noroviruses (HuNoVs) are positive-sense RNA viruses that can cause severe, highly infectious gastroenteritis. HuNoV outbreaks are frequently associated with recombination between circulating strains. Strain genotyping and phylogenetic analyses show that noroviruses often recombine in a highly conserved region near the junction of the viral polyprotein (open reading frame 1 [ORF1]) and capsid (ORF2) genes and occasionally within the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) gene. Although genotyping methods are useful for tracking changes in circulating viral populations, they report only the dominant recombinant strains and do not elucidate the frequency or range of recombination events. Furthermore, the relatively low frequency of recombination in RNA viruses has limited studies to cell culture or in vitro systems, which do not reflect the complexities and selective pressures present in an infected organism. Using two murine norovirus (MNV) strains to model coinfection, we developed a microfluidic platform to amplify, detect, and recover individual recombinants following in vitro and in vivo coinfection. One-step reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) was performed in picoliter drops with primers that identified the wild-type and recombinant progenies and scanned for recombination breakpoints at ~1-kb intervals. We detected recombination between MNV strains at multiple loci spanning the viral protease, RdRP, and capsid ORFs and isolated individual recombinant RNA genomes that were present at a frequency of 1/300,000 or higher. This study is the first to examine norovirus recombination following coinfection of an animal and suggests that the exchange of RNA among viral genomes in an infected host occurs in multiple locations and is an important driver of genetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7722-7734
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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