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Nat Genet. 2000 Aug;25(4):436-9.

Molecular breeding of viruses.

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Maxygen Inc., Redwood City, California, USA.


Genetic recombination is a major force driving the evolution of many viruses. Recombination between two copackaged retroviral genomes may occur at rates as high as 40% per replication cycle. This enables genetic information to be shuffled rapidly, leading to recombinants with new patterns of mutations and phenotypes. The in vitro process of DNA shuffling (molecular breeding) mimics this mechanism on a vastly parallel and accelerated scale. Multiple homologous parental sequences are recombined in parallel, leading to a diverse library of complex recombinants from which desired improvements can be selected. Different proteins and enzymes have been improved using DNA shuffling. We report here the first application of molecular breeding to viruses. A single round of shuffling envelope sequences from six murine leukaemia viruses (MLV) followed by selection yielded a chimaeric clone with a completely new tropism for Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHOK1) cells. The composition and properties of the selected clone indicated that this particular permutation of parental sequences cannot be readily attained by natural retroviral recombination. This example demonstrates that molecular breeding can enhance the inherently high evolutionary potential of retroviruses to obtain desired phenotypes. It can be an effective tool, when information is limited, to optimize viruses for gene therapy and vaccine applications when multiple complex functions must be simultaneously balanced.

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