The population genetics and evolutionary epidemiology of RNA viruses

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2004 Apr;2(4):279-88. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro863.


RNA viruses are ubiquitous intracellular parasites that are responsible for many emerging diseases, including AIDS and SARS. Here, we discuss the principal mechanisms of RNA virus evolution and highlight areas where future research is required. The rapidity of sequence change in RNA viruses means that they are useful experimental models for the study of evolution in general and it enables us to watch them change in 'real time', and retrace the spread through populations with molecular phylogenies. An understanding of the mechanisms of RNA virus sequence change is also crucial to predicting important aspects of their emergence and long-term evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Mutation
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA Virus Infections / epidemiology
  • RNA Virus Infections / genetics*
  • RNA Viruses / genetics*
  • RNA Viruses / growth & development
  • Selection, Genetic