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Virus Evol. 2016 Oct 26;2(2):vew033. doi: 10.1093/ve/vew033. eCollection 2016 Jul.

Transmission bottlenecks and RNAi collectively influence tick-borne flavivirus evolution.

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Department of Microbiology Immunology and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Fort Collins, CO, USA.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Center for Vector Biology and Zoonotic Diseases, New Haven, CT, USA.


Arthropod-borne RNA viruses exist within hosts as heterogeneous populations of viral variants and, as a result, possess great genetic plasticity. Understanding the micro-evolutionary forces shaping these viruses can provide insights into how they emerge, adapt, and persist in new and changing ecological niches. While considerable attention has been directed toward studying the population dynamics of mosquito-borne viruses, little is known about tick-borne virus populations. Therefore, using a mouse and Ixodes scapularis tick transmission model, we examined Powassan virus (POWV; Flaviviridae, Flavivirus) populations in and between both the vertebrate host and arthropod vector. We found that genetic bottlenecks, RNAi-mediated diversification, and selective constraints collectively influence POWV evolution. Together, our data provide a mechanistic explanation for the slow, long-term evolutionary trends of POWV, and suggest that all arthropod-borne viruses encounter similar selective pressures at the molecular level (i.e. RNAi), yet evolve much differently due to their unique rates and modes of transmission.


Ixodes; Powassan virus; RNAi; evolution; flavivirus; tick.

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