Evolutionary dynamics of genome segmentation in multipartite viruses

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Sep 22;279(1743):3812-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1086. Epub 2012 Jul 4.


Multipartite viruses are formed by a variable number of genomic fragments packed in independent viral capsids. This fact poses stringent conditions on their transmission mode, demanding, in particular, a high multiplicity of infection (MOI) for successful propagation. The actual advantages of the multipartite viral strategy are as yet unclear. The origin of multipartite viruses represents an evolutionary puzzle. While classical theories suggested that a faster replication rate or higher replication fidelity would favour shorter segments, recent experimental results seem to point to an increased stability of virions with incomplete genomes as a factor able to compensate for the disadvantage of mandatory complementation. Using as main parameters differential stability as a function of genome length and MOI, we calculate the conditions under which a set of complementary segments of a viral genome would outcompete the non-segmented variant. Further, we examine the likeliness that multipartite viral forms could be the evolutionary outcome of the competition among the defective genomes of different lengths that spontaneously arise under replication of a complete, wild-type genome. We conclude that only multipartite viruses with a small number of segments could be produced in our scenario, and discuss alternative hypotheses for the origin of multipartite viruses with more than four segments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells / virology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Genome, Viral*
  • Microbial Viability
  • Models, Genetic
  • Segmental Duplications, Genomic*
  • Virus Replication
  • Viruses / genetics*