The quest for quasispecies


This month marks 40 years since the publication of ‘Nucleotide sequence heterogeneity of an RNA phage population’ in Cell. We spoke with Esteban Domingo, leading author of this landmark study carried out during his postdoctoral work in Charles Weissman’s lab, which proposed RNA viral populations to be quasispecies.

During our collaborations with Holland in the early days, we obtained the first experimental evidence that increases in mutation rate are detrimental to RNA viruses, which established a link with the error threshold concept of the quasispecies theory, and represented the beginning of lethal mutagenesis. We then extended this concept to FMDV and collaborated with several teams on HIV-1 and arenaviruses, and now work on additional viral pathogens. It is quite remarkable that some antiviral agents such as ribavirin or favipiravir may be exerting their antiviral activity through lethal mutagenesis rather than by inhibition of viral replication. We continue to work on the connection between the error threshold and lethal mutagenesis, with an increasing focus on its use as an antiviral strategy, which is a good example of how basic research can find practical applications in the most unexpected manners.

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Correspondence to Nonia Pariente.

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Pariente, N. The quest for quasispecies. Nat Microbiol 3, 390–391 (2018).

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