Experimental evolution yields hundreds of mutations in a functional viral genome

J Mol Evol. 2003 Sep;57(3):241-8. doi: 10.1007/s00239-003-2470-1.


Two lines of the bacteriophage T7 were grown to fix mutations indiscriminately, using a combination of population bottlenecks and mutagenesis. Complete genome sequences revealed 404 and 299 base substitutions in the two lines, the largest number characterized in functional microbial genomes so far. Missense substitutions outnumbered silent substitutions. Silent substitutions occurred at similar rates between essential and nonessential genes, but missense substitutions occurred at a higher rate in nonessential genes than in essential genes, as expected if they were less deleterious in the nonessential genes. Viral fitness declined during this protocol, and subsequent passaging of each mutated line in large population sizes restored some of the lost fitness. Substitution levels during these recoveries were less than 6% of those during the bottleneck phase, and only two changes during recovery were reversions of the original mutations. Exchanges of genomic fragments between the two recovered lines revealed that fitness effects of some substitutions were not additive-that interactions were accumulating which could lead to incompatibility between the diverged genomes. Based on these results, unprecedented high rates of nucleotide and functional divergence in viral genomes should be attainable experimentally by using repeated population bottlenecks at a high mutation rate interspersed with recovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage T7 / genetics
  • Directed Molecular Evolution / methods*
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation*