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  1. Wahl, Lindi (Ed.)
    Like many viruses, Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) has a high mutation rate, which helps the virus adapt quickly, but mutations come with fitness costs. Fitness costs can be studied by different approaches, such as experimental or frequency-based approaches. The frequency-based approach is particularly useful to estimate in vivo fitness costs, but this approach works best with deep sequencing data from many hosts are. In this study, we applied the frequency-based approach to a large dataset of 195 patients and estimated the fitness costs of mutations at 7957 sites along the HCV genome. We used beta regression and random forest models to better understand how different factors influenced fitness costs. Our results revealed that costs of nonsynonymous mutations were three times higher than those of synonymous mutations, and mutations at nucleotides A or T had higher costs than those at C or G. Genome location had a modest effect, with lower costs for mutations in HVR1 and higher costs for mutations in Core and NS5B. Resistance mutations were, on average, costlier than other mutations. Our results show that in vivo fitness costs of mutations can be site and virus specific, reinforcing the utility of constructing in vivo fitness cost maps ofmore »viral genomes.« less
  2. Albert, James (Ed.)
    Abstract Birth–death stochastic processes are the foundations of many phylogenetic models and are widely used to make inferences about epidemiological and macroevolutionary dynamics. There are a large number of birth–death model variants that have been developed; these impose different assumptions about the temporal dynamics of the parameters and about the sampling process. As each of these variants was individually derived, it has been difficult to understand the relationships between them as well as their precise biological and mathematical assumptions. Without a common mathematical foundation, deriving new models is nontrivial. Here, we unify these models into a single framework, prove that many previously developed epidemiological and macroevolutionary models are all special cases of a more general model, and illustrate the connections between these variants. This unification includes both models where the process is the same for all lineages and those in which it varies across types. We also outline a straightforward procedure for deriving likelihood functions for arbitrarily complex birth–death(-sampling) models that will hopefully allow researchers to explore a wider array of scenarios than was previously possible. By rederiving existing single-type birth–death sampling models, we clarify and synthesize the range of explicit and implicit assumptions made by these models. [Birth–death processes;more »epidemiology; macroevolution; phylogenetics; statistical inference.]« less
  3. Crandall, Keith (Ed.)
    Abstract Viral phylogenies provide crucial information on the spread of infectious diseases, and many studies fit mathematical models to phylogenetic data to estimate epidemiological parameters such as the effective reproduction ratio (Re) over time. Such phylodynamic inferences often complement or even substitute for conventional surveillance data, particularly when sampling is poor or delayed. It remains generally unknown, however, how robust phylodynamic epidemiological inferences are, especially when there is uncertainty regarding pathogen prevalence and sampling intensity. Here, we use recently developed mathematical techniques to fully characterize the information that can possibly be extracted from serially collected viral phylogenetic data, in the context of the commonly used birth-death-sampling model. We show that for any candidate epidemiological scenario, there exists a myriad of alternative, markedly different, and yet plausible “congruent” scenarios that cannot be distinguished using phylogenetic data alone, no matter how large the data set. In the absence of strong constraints or rate priors across the entire study period, neither maximum-likelihood fitting nor Bayesian inference can reliably reconstruct the true epidemiological dynamics from phylogenetic data alone; rather, estimators can only converge to the “congruence class” of the true dynamics. We propose concrete and feasible strategies for making more robust epidemiological inferences frommore »viral phylogenetic data.« less
  4. Understanding within-host evolution is critical for predicting viral evolutionary outcomes, yet such studies are currently lacking due to difficulty involving human subjects. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an RNA virus with high mutation rates. Its complex evolutionary dynamics and extensive genetic diversity are demonstrated in over 67 known subtypes. In this study, we analyzed within-host mutation frequency patterns of three HCV subtypes, using a large number of samples obtained from treatment-naïve participants by next-generation sequencing. We report that overall mutation frequency patterns are similar among subtypes, yet subtype 3a consistently had lower mutation frequencies and nucleotide diversity, while subtype 1a had the highest. We found that about 50% of genomic sites are highly conserved across subtypes, which are likely under strong purifying selection. We also compared within-host and between-host selective pressures, which revealed that Hyper Variable Region 1 within hosts was under positive selection, but was under slightly negative selection between hosts, which indicates that many mutations created within hosts are removed during the transmission bottleneck. Examining the natural prevalence of known resistance-associated variants showed their consistent existence in the treatment-naïve participants. These results provide insights into the differences and similarities among HCV subtypes that may be used to developmore »and improve HCV therapies.« less