Viral Genome Segmentation Can Result from a Trade-Off between Genetic Content and Particle Stability

Samuel Ojosnegros, Juan Garcia-Arriaza, Cristina Escarmis, Susanna C. Manrubia, Celia Perales, Armando Arias, Mauricio Garcia Mateu, Esteban Domingo

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The evolutionary benefit of viral genome segmentation is a classical, yet unsolved question in evolutionary biology and RNA genetics. Theoretical studies anticipated that replication of shorter RNA segments could provide a replicative advantage over standard size genomes. However, this question has remained elusive to experimentalists because of the lack of a proper viral model system. Here we present a study with a stable segmented bipartite RNA virus and its ancestor non-segmented counterpart, in an identical genomic nucleotide sequence context. Results of RNA replication, protein expression, competition experiments, and inactivation of infectious particles point to a non-replicative trait, the particle stability, as the main driver of fitness gain of segmented genomes. Accordingly, measurements of the volume occupation of the genome inside viral capsids indicate that packaging shorter genomes involves a relaxation of the packaging density that is energetically favourable. The empirical observations are used to design a computational model that predicts the existence of a critical multiplicity of infection for domination of segmented over standard types. Our experiments suggest that viral segmented genomes may have arisen as a molecular solution for the trade-off between genome length and particle stability. Genome segmentation allows maximizing the genetic content without the detrimental effect in stability derived from incresing genome length.
Original languageEnglish
JournalP L o S Genetics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)e1001344
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

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This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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