A coronavirus (CoV) previously shown to be associated with catarrhal gastroenteritis in mink (Mustela vison) was identified by electron microscopy in mink faeces from two fur farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1998. A pan-coronavirus and a genus-specific RT-PCR assay were used initially to demonstrate that the newly discovered mink CoVs (MCoVs) were members of the genus Alphacoronavirus. Subsequently, using a random RT-PCR approach, full-genomic sequences were generated that further confirmed that, phylogenetically, the MCoVs belonged to the genus Alphacoronavirus, with closest relatedness to the recently identified but only partially sequenced (fragments of the polymerase, and full-length spike, 3c, envelope, nucleoprotein, membrane, 3x and 7b genes) ferret enteric coronavirus (FRECV) and ferret systemic coronavirus (FRSCV). The molecular data presented in this study provide the first genetic evidence for a new coronavirus associated with epizootic catarrhal gastroenteritis outbreaks in mink and demonstrate that MCoVs possess high genomic variability and relatively low overall nucleotide sequence identities (91.7%) between contemporary strains. Additionally, the new MCoVs appeared to be phylogenetically distant from human (229E and NL63) and other alphacoronaviruses and did not belong to the species Alphacoronavirus 1. It is proposed that, together with the partially sequenced FRECV and FRSCV, they comprise a new species within the genus Alphacoronavirus.
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