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Virus-host co-evolution under a modified nuclear genetic code

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Author(s): Derek J. Taylor | Matthew J. Ballinger | Shaun M. Bowman | Jeremy A. Bruenn

Journal: PeerJ
ISSN 2167-8359

Volume: 1;
Start page: e50;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: Genetic code | Yeast | Totivirus | Paleovirology | Co-evolution | NIRV

ABSTRACT
Among eukaryotes with modified nuclear genetic codes, viruses are unknown. However, here we provide evidence of an RNA virus that infects a fungal host (Scheffersomyces segobiensis) with a derived nuclear genetic code where CUG codes for serine. The genomic architecture and phylogeny are consistent with infection by a double-stranded RNA virus of the genus Totivirus. We provide evidence of past or present infection with totiviruses in five species of yeasts with modified genetic codes. All but one of the CUG codons in the viral genome have been eliminated, suggesting that avoidance of the modified codon was important to viral adaptation. Our mass spectroscopy analysis indicates that a congener of the host species has co-opted and expresses a capsid gene from totiviruses as a cellular protein. Viral avoidance of the host’s modified codon and host co-option of a protein from totiviruses suggest that RNA viruses co-evolved with yeasts that underwent a major evolutionary transition from the standard genetic code.
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