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JL Geoghegan, V Pirotta, E Harvey, A Smith, JP Buchmann, M Ostrowski, JS Eden, R Harcourt and EC Holmes
Abstract
There is growing interest in characterizing the viromes of diverse mammalian species, particularly in the context of disease emergence. However, little is known about virome diversity in aquatic mammals, in part due to difficulties in sampling. We characterized the virome of the exhaled breath (or blow) of the Eastern Australian humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). To achieve an unbiased survey of virome diversity, a meta-transcriptomic analysis was performed on 19 pooled whale blow samples collected via a purpose-built Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV, or drone) approximately 3 km off the coast of Sydney, Australia during the 2017 winter annual northward migration from Antarctica to northern Australia. To our knowledge, this is the first time that UAVs have been used to sample viruses. Despite the relatively small number of animals surveyed in this initial study, we identified six novel virus species from five viral families. This work demonstrates the potential of UAVs in studies of virus disease, diversity, and evolution.
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