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Protein Conservation in Virus Evolution

  1. Mart Krupovic1,
  2. Dennis H Bamford2

Published Online: 16 MAY 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023265



How to Cite

Krupovic, M. and Bamford, D. H. 2011. Protein Conservation in Virus Evolution. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Institut Pasteur, Paris, France

  2. 2

    University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 16 MAY 2011


Evolution of viruses is considerably more rapid than that of the cellular organisms that they infect. The reach of sequence-based evolutionary studies on viruses is therefore rather limited. The tertiary protein structure is generally conserved over longer time periods than the primary one. Indeed, structural studies proved to be more informative for reconstructing deep evolutionary connections between distantly related viruses. It has become apparent that certain viruses infecting hosts from different domains of life are remarkably similar in their virion assembly and architecture, suggesting a common ancestry for these structurally related viruses. Furthermore, the presence of several distinct architectural principles employed by viruses suggested that the origin of the current virosphere has multiple evolutionary origins. Insights obtained from numerous structural studies may not only be successfully used to refine the existing virus classification scheme, but may also lead to a major shift in our understanding on the origin, evolution and organisation of the viral domain.

Key Concepts:

  • Tertiary protein structure is conserved over longer periods of time than the primary one and thus allows recognising deep evolutionary connections between viruses that have diverged in a distant past.

  • The ability to build virions (i.e., presence of capsid proteins) is a hallmark feature of viruses that distinguishes them from other mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids and transposons.

  • Structural studies suggest that certain viruses infecting bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes are evolutionarily related.

  • Viral lineage hypothesis predicts a common origin for structurally related viruses, infecting hosts from different domains of life.

  • There are several different viral lineages of structurally distinct viruses, suggesting that the contemporary virosphere has multiple evolutionary origins.

  • The molecular virion complexity shared by viruses in different domains of life suggests that at the time of the last universal cellular ancestor (LUCA) viruses were already very sophisticated.


  • virus evolution;
  • viral lineage;
  • viral jelly roll fold;
  • double β-barrel fold;
  • virus taxonomy and classification;
  • membrane-containing viruses;
  • structural virology;
  • bacteriophage PRD1