Abstract

The sequences of 50 RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RDRPs) from 43 positive strand and 7 double strand RNA (dsRNA) viruses have been compared. The alignment permitted calculation of distances among the 50 viruses and a resultant dendrogram based on every amino acid, rather than just those amino acids in the conserved motifs. Remarkably, a large subgroup of these viruses, Including vertebrate, plant, and insect viruses, forms a single cluster whose only common characteristic is exploitation of insect hosts or vectors. This similarity may be due to molecular constraints associated with a present and/or past ability to Infect insects and/or to common descent from Insect viruses. If common descent is important, as it appears to be, all the positive strand RNA viruses of eucaryotes except for the picornaviruses may have evolved from an ancestral dsRNA virus. Viral RDRPs appear to be inherited as modules rather than as portions of single RNA segments, implying that RNA recombination has played an important role In their dissemination.

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