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Keywords:

  • Bunyaviridae;
  • founder effect;
  • mutation rate;
  • population expansion;
  • selection;
  • TSWV

Abstract

RNA viruses are characterized by high genetic variability resulting in rapid adaptation to new or resistant hosts. Research for plant RNA virus genetic structure and its variability has been relatively scarce compared to abundant research done for human and animal RNA viruses. Here, we utilized a molecular population genetic framework to characterize the evolution of a highly pathogenic plant RNA virus [Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), Tospovirus, Bunyaviridae]. Data from genes encoding five viral proteins were used for phylogenetic analysis, and for estimation of population parameters, subpopulation differentiation, recombination, divergence between Tospovirus species, and selective constraints on the TSWV genome. Our analysis has defined the geographical structure of TSWV, attributed possibly to founder effects. Also, we identify positive selection favouring divergence between Tospovirus species. At the species level, purifying selection has acted to preserve protein function, although certain amino acids appear to be under positive selection. This analysis provides demonstration of population structuring and species-wide population expansions in a multisegmented plant RNA virus, using sequence-based molecular population genetic analyses. It also identifies specific amino acid sites subject to selection within Bunyaviridae and estimates the level of genetic heterogeneity of a highly pathogenic plant RNA virus. The study of the variability of TSWV populations lays the foundation in the development of strategies for the control of other viral diseases in floral crops.