Although exchange of genetic information by recombination plays a role in the evolution of viruses, the extent to which it generates diversity is not clear. We analyzed genomes of geminiviruses for recombination using a new statistical procedure developed to detect gene conversions. Geminiviruses (family, Geminiviridae) are a group of plant viruses characterized by a genome of circular single-stranded DNA (approximately 2700 nucleotides in length) encapsidated in twinned quasi-isometric particles. Complete nucleotide sequences of geminiviruses were aligned, and recombination events were detected by searching pairs of viruses for sequences that are significantly more similar than expected based on random distribution of polymorphic sites. The analyses revealed that recombination is very frequent and occurs between species and within and across genera. Tests identified 420 statistically significant recombinant fragments distributed across the genome. The results suggest that recombination is a significant contributor to geminivirus evolution. The high rate of recombination may be contributing to the recent emergence of new geminivirus diseases.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.