Bayesian Coalescent Analysis Reveals a High Rate of Molecular Evolution in GB Virus C
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- Romano, C.M., Zanotto, P. & Holmes, E.C. J Mol Evol (2008) 66: 292. doi:10.1007/s00239-008-9087-3
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GB virus C/hepatitis G (GBV-C) is an RNA virus of the family Flaviviridae. Despite replicating with an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, some previous estimates of rates of evolutionary change in GBV-C suggest that it fixes mutations at the anomalously low rate of ∼10−7 nucleotide substitution per site, per year. However, these estimates were largely based on the assumption that GBV-C and its close relative GBV-A (New World monkey GB viruses) codiverged with their primate hosts over millions of years. Herein, we estimated the substitution rate of GBV-C using the largest set of dated GBV-C isolates compiled to date and a Bayesian coalescent approach that utilizes the year of sampling and so is independent of the assumption of codivergence. This revealed a rate of evolutionary change approximately four orders of magnitude higher than that estimated previously, in the range of 10−2 to 10−3 sub/site/year, and hence in line with those previously determined for RNA viruses in general and the Flaviviridae in particular. In addition, we tested the assumption of host-virus codivergence in GBV-A by performing a reconciliation analysis of host and virus phylogenies. Strikingly, we found no statistical evidence for host-virus codivergence in GBV-A, indicating that substitution rates in the GB viruses should not be estimated from host divergence times.