Identification of nucleotide-level changes impacting gene content and genome evolution in orthopoxviruses

Academic Article


  • © 2014, American Society for Microbiology. Poxviruses are composed of large double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) genomes coding for several hundred genes whose variation has supported virus adaptation to a wide variety of hosts over their long evolutionary history. Comparative genomics has suggested that the Orthopoxvirus genus in particular has undergone reductive evolution, with the most recent common ancestor likely possessing a gene complement consisting of all genes present in any existing modern-day orthopoxvirus species, similar to the current Cowpox virus species. As orthopoxviruses adapt to new environments, the selection pressure on individual genes may be altered, driving sequence divergence and possible loss of function. This is evidenced by accumulation of mutations and loss of protein-coding open reading frames (ORFs) that progress from individual missense mutations to gene truncation through the introduction of early stop mutations (ESMs), gene fragmentation, and in some cases, a total loss of the ORF. In this study, we have constructed a whole-genome alignment for representative isolates from each Orthopoxvirus species and used it to identify the nucleotide-level changes that have led to gene content variation. By identifying the changes that have led to ESMs, we were able to determine that short indels were the major cause of gene truncations and that the genome length is inversely proportional to the number of ESMs present. We also identified the number and types of protein functional motifs still present in truncated genes to assess their functional significance.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Hatcher EL; Hendrickson RC; Lefkowitz EJ
  • Start Page

  • 13651
  • End Page

  • 13668
  • Volume

  • 88
  • Issue

  • 23