In a search to find better ways of controlling viral enteric diseases in birds, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have uncovered a number of previously unknown viruses in poultry using metagenomics.

With this technique, Laszlo Zsak, research leader of the Endemic Poultry Viral Diseases Research Unit at the Agricultural Research Service's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, in Athens, Ga., discovered a new virus that might have future antimicrobial applications.

Zsak and Agricultural Research Service microbiologist Michael Day found a short DNA sequence of the virus, called “phiCA82,” and designed a technique to sequence the whole genome. Virus phiCA82 naturally kills bacteria and belongs to the group known as “microphages" or phages, which can potentially be used as an alternative to antibiotics and as tools to fight multi-drug resistant pathogens.

The scientists extracted and analyzed nucleic acid from poultry intestine samples gathered from U.S. commercial poultry flocks infected with enteric diseases. In addition to the novel phage, common avian diseases, such as astrovirus, reovirus and rotavirus, and RNA viruses belonging to the Picornaviridae family, were detected.

However, the scientists were surprised to discover previously unknown turkey viruses, such a picobirnavirus, which is implicated in enteric disease in other agricultural animals, and a calicivirus, often associated with human enteric disease.