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Nat Rev Microbiol. 2013 May;11(5):327-36. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3003. Epub 2013 Mar 25.

The role of mutational robustness in RNA virus evolution.

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  • 1Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, 5510B MSRB I, SPC 5680, 1150 West Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-5680, USA.


RNA viruses face dynamic environments and are masters at adaptation. During their short 'lifespans', they must surmount multiple physical, anatomical and immunological challenges. Central to their adaptative capacity is the enormous genetic diversity that characterizes RNA virus populations. Although genetic diversity increases the rate of adaptive evolution, low replication fidelity can present a risk because excess mutations can lead to population extinction. In this Review, we discuss the strategies used by RNA viruses to deal with the increased mutational load and consider how this mutational robustness might influence viral evolution and pathogenesis.

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