Frequent Coinfection Reduces RNA Virus Population Genetic Diversity.

J. Heredity. Sep-Oct;104(5):704-12.
Year of Publication: 
J.J. Dennehy, S. Duffy, K.J. O'Keefe, S.V. Edwards, P.E. Turner.

The masking of deleterious mutations by complementation and the reassortment of virus segments (virus sex) are expected to increase population genetic diversity among coinfecting viruses. Conversely, clonally reproducing or noncoinfecting virus populations may experience clonal interference where viral clones compete with one another, preventing selective sweeps. This dynamic reduces the efficiency of selection and increases the genetic diversity. To determine the relative influences of these forces on population genetic diversity, we evolved 6 populations of bacteriophage Φ6 under conditions promoting or preventing coinfection. Following 300 generations, we isolated and partially sequenced 10 clones from each population. We found greater diversity among asexual populations than sexual populations. Moreover, sexual populations did not show greater relative fitnesses than asexual populations, implying that reduced genetic variation did not result from purifying selection. However, sexual populations were less genetically robust than asexual populations and likely more prone to the deleterious epistatic effects of mutations. As such, a neutral mutation on the asexually evolved (robust) background could be profoundly deleterious on the sexually evolved (brittle) background. This could facilitate sexual populations undergoing greater purifying selection to remove deleterious mutations, but this selection is not reflected by increases in average population fitness. Our results bolster a growing literature suggesting that RNA virus segmentation is probably not a mechanism that evolved because it provides a generalized benefit of sex.