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Comparative analysis of genome-encoded viral sequences reveals the evolutionary history of Flaviviridae.

By Connor G G Bamford, William Marciel Souza, Rhys Parry, Robert J Gifford

Posted 21 Sep 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.09.19.460981

The flaviviruses (family Flaviviridae) are a group of positive-strand RNA viruses, many of which pose serious risks to human health on a global scale. Here, we calibrate the timeline of flavivirus evolution using flavivirus-derived DNA sequences identified in animal genomes. We demonstrate that the family is at least 100 million years old and show that this timing can be integrated with dates inferred from co-phylogenetic analysis and paleontological records to produce a cohesive overview of flavivirus evolution in which the main subgroups originate early in animal evolution and broadly co-diverge with animal phyla. In addition, we show that the arthropod-borne 'classical' flaviviruses first evolved from tick-specific viruses, and only later adapted to become insect-borne. Our findings demonstrate that the biological properties of flaviviruses have been acquired over many millions of years of evolution, implying that broad-scale comparative analysis can reveal fundamental insights into flavivirus biology. We implement a novel approach to computational genomic studies of viruses that can support these efforts by enabling more efficient utilization of evolution-related domain knowledge in virus research.

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