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Keywords:

  • Evolutionary dynamics;
  • giant viruses;
  • mathematical models;
  • virophages

Abstract

Giant viruses contain large genomes, encode many proteins atypical for viruses, replicate in large viral factories, and tend to infect protists. The giant virus replication factories can in turn be infected by so called virophages, which are smaller viruses that negatively impact giant virus replication. An example is Mimiviruses that infect the protist Acanthamoeba and that are themselves infected by the virophage Sputnik. This study examines the evolutionary dynamics of this system, using mathematical models. While the models suggest that the virophage population will evolve to increasing degrees of giant virus inhibition, it further suggests that this renders the virophage population prone to extinction due to dynamic instabilities over wide parameter ranges. Implications and conditions required to avoid extinction are discussed. Another interesting result is that virophage presence can fundamentally alter the evolutionary course of the giant virus. While the giant virus is predicted to evolve toward increasing its basic reproductive ratio in the absence of the virophage, the opposite is true in its presence. Therefore, virophages can not only benefit the host population directly by inhibiting the giant viruses but also indirectly by causing giant viruses to evolve toward weaker phenotypes. Experimental tests for this model are suggested.