Inference of evolutionary and ecological processes from reticulate evolution in RNA viruses
RNA viruses have the fastest evolutionary rates amongst protein-coding organisms on the planet. Ease of sequencing, advanced techniques of analysis and global health and economic concerns have all contributed to the recognition of RNA viruses as a robust research platform. Phylogenetic methods have been at the forefront of analytical techniques used to understand the dynamics of RNA viruses - during natural circulation in populations and in individual hosts, within epidemics, across species barriers and over billions of years that viruses have been around. Most of the work presented in this thesis employs phylogenetic incongruity arising from reassortment and recombination to gain insights into the genomes and populations of RNA viruses. Chapter 2 explores the selection regimes Ebola virus has experienced following a year of circulation in humans inWest Africa, as well as its recent history. Chapter 3 investigates the extent of recombination in MERS-CoV, a novel human pathogen with an obscure epidemiology, which is suggestive of frequent co-infection of some hosts. Chapter 4, on the other hand, documents a pattern of non-intuitive linkage between some segments of the human-endemic influenza B virus genome and explores its potential to speciate. Chapter 5 builds upon chapter 4 and attempts to describe small-scale reassortment between two segments of influenza B virus and the overall migration patterns of influenza B virus in Scotland. Chapter 6 exploits the independence of segments of influenza D virus, a recently described cattle pathogen, and coalescent theory to disentangle the origins of this virus. This thesis exemplifies the success of modern sequencing methods, which, together with the use of sophisticated analytical techniques, have uncovered a wealth of information hidden away in molecular sequences of RNA viruses. The work presented herein demonstrates how reticulate evolution can be exploited as a reliable, and sometimes indispensable, marker to improve inference of evolutionary forces in RNA viruses.
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