The evolutionary interplay between myxoma virus (MYXV) and the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) following release of the virus in Australia in 1950 as a biological control is a classic example of host-pathogen coevolution. We present a detailed genomic and phylogeographic analysis of 30 strains of MYXV, including the Australian progenitor strain Standard Laboratory Strain (SLS), 24 Australian viruses isolated from 1951 to 1999, and three isolates from the early radiation in Britain from 1954 and 1955. We show that in Australia MYXV has spread rapidly on a spatial scale, with multiple lineages cocirculating within individual localities, and that both highly virulent and attenuated viruses were still present in the field through the 1990s. In addition, the detection of closely related virus lineages at sites 1,000 km apart suggests that MYXV moves freely in geographic space, with mosquitoes, fleas, and rabbit migration all providing means of transport. Strikingly, despite multiple introductions, all modern viruses appear to be ultimately derived from the original introductions of SLS. The rapidity of MYXV evolution was also apparent at the genomic scale, with gene duplications documented in a number of viruses. Duplication of potential virulence genes may be important in increasing the expression of virulence proteins and provides the basis for the evolution of novel functions. Mutations leading to loss of open reading frames were surprisingly frequent and in some cases may explain attenuation, but no common mutations that correlated with virulence or attenuation were identified.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science