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The phylogeography of human viruses


Dr E. C. Holmes. Fax: +44 1865310447, E-mail:


Viruses, especially those with RNA genomes, represent ideal organisms to study the dynamics of microevolutionary change. In particular, their rapid rate of nucleotide substitution means that the epidemiological processes that shape their diversity act on the same time-scale as mutations are fixed in viral populations. Consequently, the branching structure of virus phylogenies provides a unique insight into spatial and temporal dynamics. Herein, I describe the key processes in virus phylogeography. These are generally associated with the relative rates of dispersal among populations and virus-host codivergence (vicariance), and the division between acute (short-term) and persistent (long-term) infections. These processes will be illustrated by important human viruses — HIV, dengue, rabies, polyomavirus JC and human papillomavirus – which display varying spatial and temporal structures and virus-host relationships. Key research questions for the future will also be established.