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  1. Wang, Aiming (Ed.)

    Viruses are constantly subject to natural selection to enrich beneficial mutations and weed out deleterious ones. However, it remains unresolved as to how the phenotypic gains or losses brought about by these mutations cause the viral genomes carrying the very mutations to become more or less numerous. Previous investigations by us and others suggest that viruses with plus strand (+) RNA genomes may compel such selection by bottlenecking the replicating genome copies in each cell to low single digits. Nevertheless, it is unclear if similarly stringent reproductive bottlenecks also occur in cells invaded by DNA viruses. Here we investigated whether tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), a small virus with a single-stranded DNA genome, underwent population bottlenecking in cells of its host plants. We engineered a TYLCV genome to produce two replicons that express green fluorescent protein and mCherry, respectively, in a replication-dependent manner. We found that among the cells entered by both replicons, less than 65% replicated both, whereas at least 35% replicated either of them alone. Further probability computation concluded that replication in an average cell was unlikely to have been initiated with more than three replicon genome copies. Furthermore, sequential inoculations unveiled strong mutual exclusions of these two replicons at the intracellular level. In conclusion, the intracellular population of the small DNA virus TYLCV is actively bottlenecked, and such bottlenecking may be a virus-encoded, evolutionarily conserved trait that assures timely selection of new mutations emerging through error-prone replication.

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  2. Natural selection acts on cellular organisms by ensuring the genes responsible for an advantageous phenotype consistently reap the phenotypic advantage. This is possible because reproductive cells of these organisms are almost always haploid, separating the beneficial gene from its rival allele at every generation. How natural selection acts on plus-strand RNA viruses is unclear because these viruses frequently load host cells with numerous genome copies and replicate thousands of progeny genomes in each cell. Recent studies suggest that these viruses encode the Bottleneck, Isolate, Amplify, Select (BIAS) mechanism that blocks all but a few viral genome copies from replication, thus creating the environment in which the bottleneck-escaping viral genome copies are isolated from each other, allowing natural selection to reward beneficial mutations and purge lethal errors. This BIAS mechanism also blocks the genomes of highly homologous superinfecting viruses, thus explaining cellular-level superinfection exclusion. 
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  3. Simon, Anne E. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) of virus origin accumulate in cells infected by many positive-strand (+) RNA viruses to bolster viral infectivity. Their biogenesis mostly utilizes exoribonucleases of host cells that degrade viral genomic or subgenomic RNAs in the 5′-to-3′ direction until being stalled by well-defined RNA structures. Here, we report a viral lncRNA that is produced by a novel replication-dependent mechanism. This lncRNA corresponds to the last 283 nucleotides of the turnip crinkle virus (TCV) genome and hence is designated tiny TCV subgenomic RNA (ttsgR). ttsgR accumulated to high levels in TCV-infected Nicotiana benthamiana cells when the TCV-encoded RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), also known as p88, was overexpressed. Both (+) and (−) strand forms of ttsgR were produced in a manner dependent on the RdRp functionality. Strikingly, templates as short as ttsgR itself were sufficient to program ttsgR amplification, as long as the TCV-encoded replication proteins p28 and p88 were provided in trans . Consistent with its replicational origin, ttsgR accumulation required a 5′ terminal carmovirus consensus sequence (CCS), a sequence motif shared by genomic and subgenomic RNAs of many viruses phylogenetically related to TCV. More importantly, introducing a new CCS motif elsewhere in the TCV genome was alone sufficient to cause the emergence of another lncRNA. Finally, abolishing ttsgR by mutating its 5′ CCS gave rise to a TCV mutant that failed to compete with wild-type TCV in Arabidopsis . Collectively, our results unveil a replication-dependent mechanism for the biogenesis of viral lncRNAs, thus suggesting that multiple mechanisms, individually or in combination, may be responsible for viral lncRNA production. IMPORTANCE Many positive-strand (+) RNA viruses produce long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) during the process of cellular infections and mobilize these lncRNAs to counteract antiviral defenses, as well as coordinate the translation of viral proteins. Most viral lncRNAs arise from 5′-to-3′ degradation of longer viral RNAs being stalled at stable secondary structures. Here, we report a viral lncRNA that is produced by the replication machinery of turnip crinkle virus (TCV). This lncRNA, designated ttsgR, shares the terminal characteristics with TCV genomic and subgenomic RNAs and overaccumulates in the presence of moderately overexpressed TCV RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). Furthermore, templates that are of similar sizes as ttsgR are readily replicated by TCV replication proteins (p28 and RdRp) provided from nonviral sources. In summary, this study establishes an approach for uncovering low abundance viral lncRNAs, and characterizes a replicating TCV lncRNA. Similar investigations on human-pathogenic (+) RNA viruses could yield novel therapeutic targets. 
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