Understanding how vectors alter the interactions between viruses and their hosts is a fundamental question in virology and disease ecology. In honey bees, transmission of deformed wing virus (DWV) by parasitic Varroa mites has been associated with elevated disease and host mortality, and Varroa transmission has been hypothesized to lead to increased viral titres or select for more virulent variants. Here, we mimicked Varroa transmission by serially passaging a mixed population of two DWV variants, A and B, by injection through in vitro reared honey bee pupae and tracking these viral populations through five passages. The DWV-A and DWV-B variant proportions shifted dynamically through passaging, with DWV-B outcompeting DWV-A after one passage, but levels of both variants becoming equivalent by Passage 5. Sequencing analysis revealed a dominant, recombinant DWV-B strain (DWV-A derived 5' IRES region with the rest of the genome DWV-B), with low nucleotide diversity that decreased through passaging. DWV-A populations had higher nucleotide diversity compared to DWV-B, but this also decreased through passaging. Selection signatures were found across functional regions of the DWV-A and DWV-B genomes, including amino acid mutations in the putative capsid protein region. Simulated vector transmission differentially impacted two closely related viral variants which could influence viral interactions with the host, demonstrating surprising plasticity in vector-host-viral dynamics.
Keywords: Apis mellifera; RNA viruses; Varroa destructor; bee health; deformed wing virus; evolution; transmission; virulence.