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J Mol Evol. 1999 Nov;49(5):672-81.

Genetic variability of natural populations of cotton leaf curl geminivirus, a single-stranded DNA virus

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Departamento de Biotecnologia, ETS Ingenieros Agronomos, Universidad Politecnica, Ciudad Universitaria, 28040-Madrid, Spain.


Reports on the genetic variability and evolution of natural populations of DNA viruses are scarce in comparison with the abundant information on the variability of RNA viruses. Geminiviruses are plant viruses with circular ssDNA genomes that are replicated by the host plant DNA polymerases. Whitefly-transmitted geminiviruses (WTG) are the agents of important diseases of crop plants and best exemplify emerging plant viruses. In this report we have analyzed the genetic diversity of cotton leaf curl geminivirus (CLCuV), a typical emerging WTG. No genetic differentiation was observed between isolates from different host plant species or geographic regions. Thus, the analyzed isolates represented a unique, undifferentiated population. Genetic variability, estimated as nucleotide diversities at synonymous positions in open reading frames (ORFs) for the AC1 (=replication) protein and coat protein (CP = AV1), was very high, exceeding the values reported for different genes in several plant and animal RNA viruses. This was unexpected in a virus that uses the DNA replication machinery of its eukaryotic host. Diversities at nonsynonymous positions, on the other hand, indicated that variability may be constrained in the genome of CLCuV. The ratio of nonsynonymous-to-synonymous substitutions varied for the different ORFs: they were higher for CP than for AC1 and lower still for the AC4 and AV2 ORFs, which overlap AC1 and CP ORFs, respectively. Analysis of nucleotide diversities at synonymous and nonsynonymous positions of the AC4 and AV2 ORFs suggest that their evolution is constrained by AC1 and CP, respectively. Data suggest that AC4 and AV2 are new genes that may have originated by overprinting on the preexistent AC1 and CP genes. Evidence for recombination was found for the AC1 and CP ORFs and for the noncoding intergenic region (IR). Data indicate that the origin of replication is a major recombination point in the IR, but not the only one. Analyses of the IR also suggest that recombinants may be frequent in the population and that recombination may have an important role in the generation of CLCuV variability.


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