RNA viruses are the fastest evolving known biological entities. Consequently, the sequence similarity between homologous viral proteins disappears quickly, limiting the usability of traditional sequence-based phylogenetic methods in the reconstruction of relationships and evolutionary history among RNA viruses. Protein structures, however, typically evolve more slowly than sequences, and structural similarity can still be evident, when no sequence similarity can be detected. Here, we used an automated structural comparison method, homologous structure finder, for comprehensive comparisons of viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRps). We identified a common structural core of 231 residues for all the structurally characterized viral RdRps, covering segmented and non-segmented negative-sense, positive-sense, and double-stranded RNA viruses infecting both prokaryotic and eukaryotic hosts. The grouping and branching of the viral RdRps in the structure-based phylogenetic tree follow their functional differentiation. The RdRps using protein primer, RNA primer, or self-priming mechanisms have evolved independently of each other, and the RdRps cluster into two large branches based on the used transcription mechanism. The structure-based distance tree presented here follows the recently established RdRp-based RNA virus classification at genus, subfamily, family, order, class and subphylum ranks. However, the topology of our phylogenetic tree suggests an alternative phylum level organization.
- 1184 Genetik, utvecklingsbiologi, fysiologi
- 1182 Biokemi, cell- och molekylärbiologi
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