Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 76, Issue 6, pp 359–364 | Cite as

Mechanisms for RNA Capture by ssDNA Viruses: Grand Theft RNA

  • Kenneth StedmanEmail author


Viruses contain three common types of packaged genomes; double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), RNA (mostly single and occasionally double stranded) and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA). There are relatively straightforward explanations for the prevalence of viruses with dsDNA and RNA genomes, but the evolutionary basis for the apparent success of ssDNA viruses is less clear. The recent discovery of four ssDNA virus genomes that appear to have been formed by recombination between co-infecting RNA and ssDNA viruses, together with the high mutation rate of ssDNA viruses provide possible explanations. RNA–DNA recombination allows ssDNA viruses to access much broader sequence space than through nucleotide substitution and DNA–DNA recombination alone. Multiple non-exclusive mechanisms, all due to the unique replication of ssDNA viruses, are proposed for this unusual RNA capture. RNA capture provides an explanation for the evolutionary success of the ssDNA viruses and may help elucidate the mystery of integrated RNA viruses in viral and cellular DNA genomes.


Recombination Evolution Rep protein Endonuclease Ligase RNA–DNA ligation 



Thanks to the Stedman lab for stimulating discussions and Geoff Diemer and Christoph Deeg comments on this manuscript. Thanks also to Ian Hewson and Lauren McDaniel for sharing data before publication. Thanks to Mya Breitbart, Sandy Lazarowitz and Bentley Fane for stimulating discussions. This work was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the US National Science Foundation Microbial Observatories Program, Grant number MCB 0702020, and Portland State University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology Department, Center for Life in Extreme EnvironmentsPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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