The discovery of new or divergent viruses using metagenomics and high-throughput sequencing has become more commonplace. The preparation of a sample is known to have an effect on the representation of virus sequences within the metagenomic dataset yet comparatively little attention has been given to this. Physical enrichment techniques are often applied to samples to increase the number of viral sequences and therefore enhance the probability of detection. With the exception of virus ecology studies, there is a paucity of information available to researchers on the type of sample preparation required for a viral metagenomic study that seeks to identify an aetiological virus in an animal or human diagnostic sample. A review of published virus discovery studies revealed the most commonly used enrichment methods, that were usually quick and simple to implement, namely low-speed centrifugation, filtration, nuclease-treatment (or combinations of these) which have been routinely used but often without justification. These were applied to a simple and well-characterised artificial sample composed of bacterial and human cells, as well as DNA (adenovirus) and RNA viruses (influenza A and human enterovirus), being either non-enveloped capsid or enveloped viruses. The effect of the enrichment method was assessed by both quantitative real-time PCR and metagenomic analysis that incorporated an amplification step. Reductions in the absolute quantities of bacteria and human cells were observed for each method as determined by qPCR, but the relative abundance of viral sequences in the metagenomic dataset remained largely unchanged. A 3-step method of centrifugation, filtration and nuclease-treatment showed the greatest increase in the proportion of viral sequences. This study provides a starting point for the selection of a purification method in future virus discovery studies, and highlights the need for more data to validate the effect of enrichment methods on different sample types, amplification, bioinformatics approaches and sequencing platforms. This study also highlights the potential risks that may attend selection of a virus enrichment method without any consideration for the sample type being investigated.
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