Adaptive evolution by recombination is not associated with increased mutation rates in Maize streak virus
Cassava geminiviruses occur in all cassava growing areas of Africa and are considered to be the most damaging vector-borne plant pathogens. At least seven species of these viruses have been identified. We investigated genetic variation in East African cassava mosaic cassava Cameroon virus (EACMCV) from naturally infected cassava and from experimentally infected Nicotiana benthamiana. Results showed that the populations of EACMCV in cassava and in N. benthamiana were genetically heterogeneous. Mutation frequencies in the order of 10(-4), comparable to that reported for plant RNA viruses, were observed in both hosts. We also produced an EACMCV mutant that induces reversion and second site mutations, thus suggesting that a high mutation frequency facilitates the maintenance of genome structure and function. This is direct experimental evidence showing that cassava geminiviruses exhibit a high mutation frequency and that a single clone quickly transforms into a collection of mutant sequences upon introduction into the host.