The process of molecular adaptation following a cross-species virus transmission event is currently poorly understood. Here, we identified 137 protein sites that experienced deceleration in their rate of evolution along the HIV-1/SIV phylogeny, likely indicating gain-of-function and consequent adaptation. The majority of such events occurred in parallel to cross-species transmission events and varied between HIV-1 groups, indicating independent adaptation strategies. The evolutionary rate decelerations we found were particularly prominent in accessory proteins that counteract host antiviral restriction factors, suggesting that these factors are a major barrier to viral adaptation to a new host. Surprisingly, we observed that the non-pandemic HIV-1 group O, derived from gorillas, exhibited more rate deceleration events than the pandemic group M, derived from chimpanzees. We suggest that the species barrier is higher when the genetic distance of the hosts increases. Our approach paves the way for subsequent studies on cross-species transfers in other major pathogens.
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