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Genetics. 2002 Dec;162(4):1505-11.

The rate and character of spontaneous mutation in an RNA virus.

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Departamento de Protección Vegetal, Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria, Carretera de La Coruña Km. 7.5, 28040-Madrid, Spain.


Estimates of spontaneous mutation rates for RNA viruses are few and uncertain, most notably due to their dependence on tiny mutation reporter sequences that may not well represent the whole genome. We report here an estimate of the spontaneous mutation rate of tobacco mosaic virus using an 804-base cognate mutational target, the viral MP gene that encodes the movement protein (MP). Selection against newly arising mutants was countered by providing MP function from a transgene. The estimated genomic mutation rate was on the lower side of the range previously estimated for lytic animal riboviruses. We also present the first unbiased riboviral mutational spectrum. The proportion of base substitutions is the same as that in a retrovirus but is lower than that in most DNA-based organisms. Although the MP mutant frequency was 0.02-0.05, 35% of the sequenced mutants contained two or more mutations. Therefore, the mutation process in populations of TMV and perhaps of riboviruses generally differs profoundly from that in populations of DNA-based microbes and may be strongly influenced by a subpopulation of mutator polymerases.

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