Send to

Choose Destination
Genetics. 2004 Sep;168(1):9-19.

Co-infection weakens selection against epistatic mutations in RNA viruses.

Author information

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.

Erratum in

  • Genetics. 2006 Apr;172(4):2705.


Co-infection may be beneficial in large populations of viruses because it permits sexual exchange between viruses that is useful in combating the mutational load. This advantage of sex should be especially substantial when mutations interact through negative epistasis. In contrast, co-infection may be detrimental because it allows virus complementation, where inferior genotypes profit from superior virus products available within the cell. The RNA bacteriophage phi6 features a genome divided into three segments. Co-infection by multiple phi6 genotypes produces hybrids containing reassorted mixtures of the parental segments. We imposed a mutational load on phi6 populations by mixing the wild-type virus with three single mutants, each harboring a deleterious mutation on a different one of the three virus segments. We then contrasted the speed at which these epistatic mutations were removed from virus populations in the presence and absence of co-infection. If sex is a stronger force, we predicted that the load should be purged faster in the presence of co-infection. In contrast, if complementation is more important we hypothesized that mutations would be eliminated faster in the absence of co-infection. We found that the load was purged faster in the absence of co-infection, which suggests that the disadvantages of complementation can outweigh the benefits of sex, even in the presence of negative epistasis. We discuss our results in light of virus disease management and the evolutionary advantage of haploidy in biological populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center