A reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay was developed for the detection and identification of aquatic birnaviruses. The four sets of primers (PrA, PrB, PrC, and PrD) that we used are specific for regions of cDNA coded by genome segment A of aquatic birnaviruses. PrA identifies a large fragment (1,180 bp) within the pVP2-coding region, and PrB identifies a 524-bp fragment within the sequence amplified by PrA. Primer set PrC frames a genome fragment (339 bp) within the NS-VP3-coding region, and PrD identifies a 174-bp sequence within the fragment identified by PrC. PrB and PrD amplified cDNAs from all nine recognized serotypes of aquatic birnavirus serogroup A as well as the N1 isolate that may represent a 10th serotype. These results indicate that these three primer sequences are highly conserved and can be used in PCR assays for group identification of these viruses. PrA routinely produced amplification products from eight serotypes but exhibited variable results with one serotype, and primer PrC identified 6 of the 11 virus isolates tested. The qualitative sensitivity of the RT-PCR assay was evaluated by comparison of the results with those of cell culture isolation assays. With the exception of one sample, the RT-PCR assay with primer PrD was as accurate as cell culture isolation for detecting virus in kidney and spleen tissues from naturally infected, asymptomatic carrier fish. These results indicate that the RT-PCR assay can be a rapid and reliable substitute for cell culture methods for the detection of aquatic birnaviruses
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