Hantavirus Evolution in Relation to Its Rodent and Insectivore Hosts: No Evidence for Codivergence


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Abstract

Hantaviruses are considered one of the best examples of a long-term association between RNA viruses and their hosts. Based on the appearance of strong host specificity, it has been suggested that hantaviruses cospeciated with the rodents and insectivores they infect since these mammals last shared a common ancestor, approximately 100 million years ago. We tested this hypothesis of host–virus codivergence in two ways: 1) we used cophylogenetic reconciliation analysis to assess the fit of the virus tree onto that of the host and 2) we estimated the evolutionary rates and divergence times for the Hantavirus genus using a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo method and similarly compared these with those of their hosts. Our reconciliation analysis provided no evidence for a history of codivergence between hantaviruses and their hosts. Further, the divergence times for the Hantavirus genus were many orders of magnitude too recent to correspond with the timescale of their hosts' speciation. We therefore propose that apparent similarities between the phylogenies of hantaviruses and their mammalian hosts are the result of a more recent history of preferential host switching and local adaptation. Based on the presence of clade-defining amino acids in all genomic segments, we propose that the patterns of amino acid replacement in these viruses are also compatible with a history of host-specific adaptation.

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