Mechanisms of plant virus evolution

Annu Rev Phytopathol. 1997;35:191-209. doi: 10.1146/annurev.phyto.35.1.191.


Plant viruses utilize several mechanisms to generate the large amount of genetic diversity found both within and between species. Plant RNA viruses and pararetroviruses probably have highly error prone replication mechanisms, that result in numerous mutations and a quasispecies nature. The plant DNA viruses also exhibit diversity, but the source of this is less clear. Plant viruses frequently use recombination and reassortment as driving forces in evolution, and, occasionally, other mechanisms such as gene duplication and overprinting. The amount of variation found in different species of plant viruses is remarkably different, even though there is no evidence that the mutation rate varies. The origin of plant viruses is uncertain, but several possible theories are proposed. The relationships between some plant and animal viruses suggests a common origin, possibly an insect virus. The propensity for rapid adaptation makes tracing the evolutionary history of viruses difficult, and long term control of virus disease nearly impossible, but it provides an excellent model system for studying general mechanisms of molecular evolution.