Unlike vertebrates, for which paleontological data are available, and RNA viruses, which display a high rate of genetic variation, an objective estimate of time parameters for the molecular evolution of DNA viruses, which display a low rate of accumulation of mutations, is a complex problem. Genomic studies of a set of smallpox (variola) virus (VARV) isolates demonstrated the patterns of phylogenetic relationships between geographic variants of this virus. Using archival data on smallpox outbreaks and the results of phylogenetic analyses of poxvirus genomes, different research teams have obtained contradictory data on the possible time point of VARV origin. I discuss the approaches used for dating of VARV evolution and adduce the arguments favoring its historically recent origin.
Archives of Virology – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 1, 2009
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