The coevolution of myxoma virus (MYXV) and wild European rabbits in Australia and Europe is a paradigm for the evolution of a pathogen in a new host species. Genomic analyses have identified the mutations that have characterized this evolutionary process, but defining causal mutations in the pathways from virulence to attenuation and back to virulence has not been possible. Using reverse genetics, we examined the roles of six selected mutations found in Australian field isolates of MYXV that fall in known or potential virulence genes. Several of these mutations occurred in genes previously identified as virulence genes in whole-gene knockout studies. Strikingly, no single or double mutation among the mutations tested had an appreciable impact on virulence. This suggests either that virulence evolution was defined by amino acid changes other than those analyzed here or that combinations of multiple mutations, possibly involving epistatic interactions or noncoding sequences, have been critical in the ongoing evolution of MYXV virulence. In sum, our results show that single-gene knockout studies of a progenitor virus can have little power to predict the impact of individual mutations seen in the field. The genetic determinants responsible for this canonical case of virulence evolution remain to be determined.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science