Why do RNA viruses recombine?

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Jul 4;9(8):617-26. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2614.


Recombination occurs in many RNA viruses and can be of major evolutionary significance. However, rates of recombination vary dramatically among RNA viruses, which can range from clonal to highly recombinogenic. Here, we review the factors that might explain this variation in recombination frequency and show that there is little evidence that recombination is favoured by natural selection to create advantageous genotypes or purge deleterious mutations, as predicted if recombination functions as a form of sexual reproduction. Rather, recombination rates seemingly reflect larger-scale patterns of viral genome organization, such that recombination may be a mechanistic by-product of the evolutionary pressures acting on other aspects of virus biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • RNA Viruses / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Selection, Genetic


  • RNA, Viral