The fitness of citrus tristeza virus defective RNAs is affected by the lengths of their 5'- and 3'-termini and by the coding capacity.
Populations of the Closterovirus Citrus tristeza virus (CTV) generally contain defective RNAs (dRNAs) that vary in size, abundance, and sequence. The variation in abundance of the different dRNAs in a population suggests selection for those of higher fitness. To examine factors affecting fitness of dRNAs, we investigated a series of in vitro constructed dRNAs for their ability to be amplified in protoplasts by an efficiently replicated CTV deletion mutant. The minimal sequences required for accumulation of the dRNAs were within the genomic 5' proximal approximately 1 kb and the 3' 270 nucleotides. However, other factors were involved, because a dRNA with only the minimal sequences failed to be replicated. Rescue of a nonviable dRNA by insertion of nonviral sequences between the termini suggested that "spacing" between terminal cis-acting signals influenced fitness. A continuous open reading frame (ORF) through most of the sequences derived from the 5' of the genome was a requirement for dRNA amplification. In general, insertions, deletions, or nucleotide substitutions were tolerated in the dRNAs as long as an ORF was retained, whereas dRNAs with mutations that prematurely terminated the ORF were not viable. To discriminate between a requirement for an essential protein and ribosomal travel, perhaps to present replication signals to the replicase complex, mutations were made to modify the potential protein but still maintain an ORF. Deletions, insertions of nonviral sequences, or switching of reading frames that altered the amino acid sequence of the protein, except the N-terminal 161 amino acids, did not destroy the fitness of the dRNAs. Yet termination of the ORF in the middle of nonviral sequences did destroy the ability of the dRNAs to be amplified. These results suggest that even though a continuous ORF was needed for fitness, its protein product did not affect the amplification of the dRNAs.
Mawassi, M; Satyanarayana, T; Albiach-Martí, MR; Gowda, S; Ayllón, MA; Robertson, C; Dawson, WO
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