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Prev Vet Med. 2001 Sep 20;51(1-2):111-24.

The generation and persistence of genetic variation in foot-and-mouth disease virus.

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Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Roslin, EH25 9RG, Midlothian, UK.


Genetic variation in foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) is of interest for at least two reasons. First, changes to the genes encoding capsid proteins results in antigenic variation, and affects vaccine efficiency and effectiveness of vaccination programs; second, genetic changes can lead to important insights into the transport of virus between countries, regions, herds, and even possibly individuals. Current estimates of RNA virus mutation rates suggest that an average of about one base mis-incorporation is likely to occur each time a single FMDV genome replicates. This should result in the introduction of every possible 1-step mutation from the progenitor genotype into the viraemia of a single infected animal many times a day. In the absence of purifying selection, a single infected animal should therefore generate a genetically very diverse population of virus.Viral-capsid sequences obtained from infected animals sampled over long-term FMDV epidemics suggest that these genetic changes accrue in a remarkably linear 'clock-like' fashion and at rates of around 1% change per year. While such a rate is generally regarded as quite high, it is actually somewhat lower than one might expect based on the rate at which viral diversity could be generated within a single animal. The difference might be explained in a variety of possible ways: (1) the mutation rate has been overestimated; (2) purifying selection is stronger than predicted; (3) only a restricted subset of excreted virus is actually infectious; (4) infected animals only excrete virus from a small partitioned subset of amplified virus, and that most of the generated viral diversity is unable to exit the animal; or (5) only a small fraction of all infected animals participate in the actual disease-transmission process.

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