The rugged adaptive landscape of an emerging plant RNA virus

The rugged adaptive landscape of an emerging plant RNA virus

Jasna Lalic, Santiago F. Elena

RNA viruses are the main source of emerging infectious diseases owed to the evolutionary potential bestowed by their fast replication, large population sizes and high mutation and recombination rates. However, an equally important parameter, which is usually neglected, is the topography of the fitness landscape, that is, how many fitness maxima exist and how well connected they are, which determines the number of accessible evolutionary pathways. To address this question, we have reconstructed the fitness landscape describing the adaptation of Tobacco etch potyvirus to its new host, Arabidopsis thaliana. Fitness was measured for most of the genotypes in the landscape, showing the existence of peaks and holes. We found prevailing epistatic effects between mutations, with cases of reciprocal sign epistasis being common at latter stages. Therefore, results suggest that the landscape was rugged and holey, with several local fitness peaks and a very limited number of potential neutral paths. The viral genotype fixed at the end of the evolutionary process was not on the global fitness optima but stuck into a suboptimal peak.

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