Delayed transmission selects for increased survival of vesicular stomatitis virus.

Evolution. 69 (1), 117-125.
Year of Publication: 
B.R. Wasik, A. Bhushan, C.B. Ogbunugafor, P.E. Turner.

Life-history theory predicts that traits for survival and reproduction cannot be simultaneously maximized in evolving populations. For this reason, in obligate parasites such as infectious viruses, selection for improved between-host survival during transmission may lead to evolution of decreased within-host reproduction. We tested this idea using experimental evolution of RNA virus populations, passaged under differing transmission times in the laboratory. A single ancestral genotype of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a negative-sense RNA Rhabdovirus, was used to found multiple virus lineages evolved in either ordinary 24-h cell-culture passage, or in delayed passages of 48 h. After 30 passages (120 generations of viral evolution), we observed that delayed transmission selected for improved extracellular survival, which traded-off with lowered viral fecundity (slower exponential population growth and smaller mean plaque size). To further examine the confirmed evolutionary trade-off, we obtained consensus whole-genome sequences of evolved virus populations, to infer phenotype–genotype associations. Results implied that increased virus survival did not occur via convergence; rather, improved virion stability was gained via independent mutations in various VSV structural proteins. Our study suggests that RNA viruses can evolve different molecular solutions for enhanced survival despite their limited genetic architecture, but suffer generalized reproductive trade-offs that limit overall fitness gains.