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Evolution in health and medicine Sackler colloquium: The comparative genomics of viral emergence

, : Evolution in health and medicine Sackler colloquium: The comparative genomics of viral emergence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107 Suppl 1: 1742-1746

RNA viruses are the main agents of emerging and re-emerging diseases. It is therefore important to reveal the evolutionary processes that underpin their ability to jump species boundaries and establish themselves in new hosts. Here, I discuss how comparative genomics can contribute to this endeavor. Arguably the most important evolutionary process in RNA virus evolution, abundant mutation, may even open up avenues for their control through "lethal mutagenesis." Despite this remarkable mutational power, adaptation to diverse host species remains a major adaptive challenge, such that the most common outcome of host jumps are short-term "spillover" infections. A powerful case study of the utility of genomic approaches to studies of viral evolution and emergence is provided by influenza virus and brought into sharp focus by the ongoing epidemic of swine-origin H1N1 influenza A virus (A/H1N1pdm). Research here reveals a marked lack of surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs, coupled with the possibility of cryptic transmission before the first reported human cases, such that the exact genesis of A/H1N1pdm (where, when, how) is uncertain.


PMID: 19858482

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906193106

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