Profiling of RNA viruses in biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) and related Diptera from Kenya using metagenomics and metabarcoding analysis

Vector-borne diseases (VBDs) cause enormous health burden worldwide, as they account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases and over 700,000 deaths each year. A significant number of these VBDs are caused by RNA virus pathogens. Here, we used metagenomics and metabarcoding analysis to characterize RNA viruses and their insect hosts among biting midges from Kenya. We identified a total of 15 phylogenetically distinct insect-specific viruses. These viruses fall into six families, with one virus falling in the recently proposed negevirus taxon. The six virus families include Partitiviridae, Iflaviridae, Tombusviridae, Solemoviridae, Totiviridae, and Chuviridae. In addition, we identified many insect species that were possibly associated with the identified viruses. Ceratopogonidae was the most common family of midges identified. Others included Chironomidae and Cecidomyiidae. Our findings reveal a diverse RNA virome among Kenyan midges that includes previously unknown viruses. Further, metabarcoding analysis based on COI (cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 mitochondrial gene) barcodes reveal a diverse array of midge species among the insects used in the study. Successful application of metagenomics and metabarcoding methods to characterize RNA viruses and their insect hosts in this study highlights a possible simultaneous application of these two methods as cost-effective approaches to virus surveillance and host characterization. IMPORTANCE The majority of the viruses that currently cause diseases in humans and animals are RNA viruses, and more specifically arthropod-transmitted viruses. They cause diseases such as dengue, West Nile infection, bluetongue disease, Schmallenberg disease, and yellow fever, among others. Several sequencing investigations have shown us that a diverse array of RNA viruses among insect vectors remain unknown. Some of these could be ancient lineages that could aid in comprehensive studies on RNA virus evolution. Such studies may provide us with insights into the evolution of the currently pathogenic viruses. Here, we applied metagenomics to field-collected midges and we managed to characterize several RNA viruses, where we recovered complete and nearly complete genomes of these viruses. We also characterized the insect host species that are associated with these viruses. These results add to the currently known diversity of RNA viruses among biting midges as well as their associated insect hosts.