Tilapia are an important global food source due to their omnivorous diet, tolerance for high-density aquaculture, and relative disease resistance. Since 2009, tilapia aquaculture has been threatened by mass die-offs in farmed fish in Israel and Ecuador. Here we report evidence implicating a novel orthomyxo-like virus in these outbreaks. The tilapia lake virus (TiLV) has a 10-segment, negative-sense RNA genome. The largest segment, segment 1, contains an open reading frame with weak sequence homology to the influenza C virus PB1 subunit. The other nine segments showed no homology to other viruses but have conserved, complementary sequences at their 5′ and 3′ termini, consistent with the genome organization found in other orthomyxoviruses. In situ hybridization indicates TiLV replication and transcription at sites of pathology in the liver and central nervous system of tilapia with disease.
The economic impact of worldwide trade in tilapia is estimated at $7.5 billion U.S. dollars (USD) annually. The infectious agent implicated in mass tilapia die-offs in two continents poses a threat to the global tilapia industry, which not only provides inexpensive dietary protein but also is a major employer in the developing world. Here we report characterization of the causative agent as a novel orthomyxo-like virus, tilapia lake virus (TiLV). We also describe complete genomic and protein sequences that will facilitate TiLV detection and containment and enable vaccine development.