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J Mol Biol. 2004 Oct 1;342(5):1423-30.

Molecular basis of fitness loss and fitness recovery in vesicular stomatitis virus.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical College of Ohio, Toledo, OH 43614, USA.


Viral populations subjected to repeated genetic bottleneck accumulate deleterious mutations in a process known as Muller's ratchet. Asexual viruses, such as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) can recover from Muller's ratchet by replication with large effective population sizes. However, mutants with a history of bottleneck transmissions often show decreased adaptability when compared to non-bottlenecked populations. We have generated a collection of bottlenecked mutants and allowed them to recover by large population passages. We have characterized fitness changes and the complete genomes of these strains. Mutations accumulated during the operation of Muller's ratchet led to the identification of two potential mutational hot spots in the VSV genome. As in other viral systems, transitions were more common than transversions. Both back mutation and compensatory mutations contributed to recovery, although a significant level of fitness increase was observed in nine of the 13 bottlenecked strains with no obvious changes in the consensus sequence. Additional replication of three strains resulted in the fixation of single point mutations. Only two mutations previously found in non-bottlenecked, high-fitness populations that had been adapting to the same environment were identified in the recovered strains.

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