Evolution of Virus Specialists and Generalists, and Consequences for Viral Biodiversity

Virus biodiversity on Earth is vast, but as in other biological systems the underlying ecological and evolutionary drivers of biodiversity remain largely unknown. Some viruses specialize on relatively few host types (ecological resources), whereas other viruses are capable of generalizing on a wider variety of host types for infection. Our studies examine the evolutionary genetics of specialist vs. generalist traits in viruses, to determine how and why viruses evolutionarily change to become broader versus narrower in their host breadth. These projects include molecular evolution studies of genetic substitutions responsible for host range, including point mutations governing attachment, entry and intracellular replication strategies, as well as those that act to separate virus gene pools (i.e., virus ‘speciation’ events). These studies also relate to virus applications, such as interactions between viruses and cancer cells and how these relationships may evolve when viruses are harnessed to specifically kill cancers (oncolytic virotherapy).


• Wasik, B.R., A.R. Munoz-Rojas, K.W. Okamoto, K. Miller-Jensen, and P.E. Turner. 2016. Generalized selection to overcome innate immunity selects for host breadth in an RNA virus. Evolution 70(2):270-281. DOI: 10.1111/evo.12845.

• Morley, V.J., M. Sistrom, J. Usme Ciro, S.K. Remold, and P.E. Turner. 2015. Evolution in spatially mixed host environments increases divergence for evolved fitness and intrapopulation genetic diversity in RNA viruses. Virus Evolution 2(1):vev022. DOI: 10.1093/ve/vev022. PMID: 27774292. PMCID: PMC4989875

• Walther, V., D. Shibata, C.T. Hiley, C. Swanton, P.E. Turner, and C.C. Maley. 2015. Can oncology recapitulate paleontology? What oncologists might learn from species extinctions. Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology 12:273-285. DOI: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2015.12. PMID: 25687908. PMCID: PMC4569005

• Pesko, K., E. A. Voigt, A. Swick, V.J. Morley, C. Timm, J. Yin, and P.E. Turner. 2015. Genome rearrangement affects RNA virus adaptability on prostate cancer cells. Frontiers in Genetics 6:121. DOI: 10.3389/fgene.2015.00121. PMID: 25883601. PMCID: PMC4381649

• Wasik, B, and P.E. Turner. 2013. On the biological success of viruses. Annual Review of Microbiology 67:519-541. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-micro-090110-102833. PMID: 23808330

• Turner, P.E., R.C. McBride, S. Duffy, R. Montville, L.-S. Wang, Y. Yang, S.-J. Lee, and J. Kim. 2012. Evolutionary genomics of host-use in bifurcating demes of RNA virus phi-6. BMC Evolutionary Biology 12:153. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-12-153. PMID: 22913547. PMCID: PMC3495861

• Remold, S.K., A. Rambaut, and P.E. Turner. 2008. Evolutionary genomics of host adaptation in VSV. Molecular Biology and Evolution 25(6):1138-1147.

• Duffy, S., C. L. Burch, and P.E. Turner. 2007. Evolution of host specificity drives reproductive isolation among RNA viruses. Evolution 61:2614-2622.

• Turner, P.E., and S.F. Elena. 2000. Cost of host radiation in an RNA virus. Genetics 156:1465-1470. PMCID: PMC1461356.