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IUBMB Life. 2000 Jan;49(1):5-9.

The two faces of mutation: extinction and adaptation in RNA viruses.

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Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biología Evolutiva, Universitat de València, Spain.


From a population standpoint, two main features characterize the replication of RNA viruses and viruses that use RNA as a replicative intermediate: high genetic variability, and enormous fluctuations in population size. Their genetic variability mainly reflects a lack of the proof-reading and post-replicative error correction mechanisms that operate during cellular DNA replication, but recombination and segment exchange can also play an important role. Viral population size can change tremendously as a consequence of transmission between hosts or between different tissues within an infected host. A new infection can be initiated with very few particles that subsequently expand many trillion-fold. Repeated bottleneck events can lead to drastic fitness losses or even to viral extinction, whereas continuously large population sizes result in fitness gains and adaptation. Here we review experimental evidence for the effects of mutation, selection, and genetic drift on the adaptation and extinction of RNA viruses.

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