An exploration of ambigrammatic sequences in narnaviruses
DeRisi JL, Huber G, Kistler A, Retallack H, Wilkinson M, Yllanes DScientific Reports, 2020Abstract:
Narnaviruses have been described as positive-sense RNA viruses with a remarkably simple genome of ~3 kb, encoding only a highly conserved RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). Many narnaviruses, however, are 'ambigrammatic' and harbour an additional uninterrupted open reading frame (ORF) covering almost the entire length of the reverse complement strand. No function has been described for this ORF, yet the absence of stops is conserved across diverse narnaviruses, and in every case the codons in the reverse ORF and the RdRp are aligned. The >3 kb ORF overlap on opposite strands, unprecedented among RNA viruses, motivates an exploration of the constraints imposed or alleviated by the codon alignment. Here, we show that only when the codon frames are aligned can all stop codons be eliminated from the reverse strand by synonymous single-nucleotide substitutions in the RdRp gene, suggesting a mechanism for de novo gene creation within a strongly conserved amino-acid sequence. It will be fascinating to explore what implications this coding strategy has for other aspects of narnavirus biology. Beyond narnaviruses, our rapidly expanding catalogue of viral diversity may yet reveal additional examples of this broadly-extensible principle for ambigrammatic-sequence development.