Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Mutational fitness effects in RNA and single-stranded DNA viruses: common patterns revealed by site-directed mutagenesis studies

Rafael Sanjuán

Rafael Sanjuán

Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva and Departamento de Genética, Universitat de València, C/Catedrático Agustín Escardino 9, Valencia 46980, Spain

Centro Superior de Investigación en Salud Pública (CSISP), Av. Cataluña 21, Valencia 46020, Spain

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    The fitness effects of mutations are central to evolution, yet have begun to be characterized in detail only recently. Site-directed mutagenesis is a powerful tool for achieving this goal, which is particularly suited for viruses because of their small genomes. Here, I discuss the evolutionary relevance of mutational fitness effects and critically review previous site-directed mutagenesis studies. The effects of single-nucleotide substitutions are standardized and compared for five RNA or single-stranded DNA viruses infecting bacteria, plants or animals. All viruses examined show very low tolerance to mutation when compared with cellular organisms. Moreover, for non-lethal mutations, the mean fitness reduction caused by single mutations is remarkably constant (0.10–0.13), whereas the fraction of lethals varies only modestly (0.20–0.41). Other summary statistics are provided. These generalizations about the distribution of mutational fitness effects can help us to better understand the evolution of RNA and single-stranded DNA viruses.