Genetic variation in fitness within a clonal population of a plant RNA virus

Autores UPV
Revista Virus Evolution


A long-standing observation in evolutionary virology is that RNA virus populations are highly polymorphic, composed by a mixture of genotypes whose abundances in the population depend on complex interaction between fitness differences, mutational coupling and genetic drift. It was shown long ago, though in cell cultures, that most of these genotypes had lower fitness than the population they belong, an observation that explained why single virion passages turned on Muller¿s ratchet while very large population passages resulted in fitness increases in novel environments. Here we report the results of an experiment specifically designed to evaluate in vivo the fitness differences among the subclonal components of a clonal population of the plant RNA virus tobacco etch potyvirus (TEV). Over 100 individual biological subclones from a TEV clonal population well adapted to the natural tobacco host were obtained by infectivity assays on a local lesion host. The replicative fitness of these subclones was then evaluated during infection of tobacco relative to the fitness of large random samples taken from the starting clonal population. Fitness was evaluated at increasing number of days post-inoculation. We found that at early days, the average fitness of subclones was significantly lower than the fitness of the clonal population, thus confirming previous observations that most subclones contained deleterious mutations. However, as the number of days of viral replication increases, population size expands exponentially, more beneficial and compensatory mutations are produced, and selection becomes more effective in optimizing fitness, the differences between subclones and the population disappeared.