Emerging viruses threaten global health, but few experimental models can characterize the virus and host factors necessary for within- and cross-species transmission. Here, we leverage a model whereby pet store mice or rats—which harbor natural rodent pathogens—are cohoused with laboratory mice. This “dirty” mouse model offers a platform for studying acute transmission of viruses between and within hosts via natural mechanisms. We identified numerous viruses and other microbial species that transmit to cohoused mice, including prospective new members of the Coronaviridae, Astroviridae, Picornaviridae, and Narnaviridae families, and uncovered pathogen interactions that promote or prevent virus transmission. We also evaluated transmission dynamics of murine astroviruses during transmission and spread within a new host. Finally, by cohousing our laboratory mice with the bedding of pet store rats, we identified cross-species transmission of a rat astrovirus. Overall, this model system allows for the analysis of transmission of natural rodent viruses and is a platform to further characterize barriers to zoonosis.

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