We study the natural coevolution between Caenorhabditis briggsae and its two recently described RNA viruses called Santeuil and Le Blanc (1, 2). The main advantage of this system is to combine the access to wild host and virus populations with powerful molecular tools and experimental evolution designs.
We characterized the incidence of the two C. briggsae viruses in France and found that they are found in sympatry. By monitoring the viral RNAs in wild-caught C. briggsae isolates using Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization, we demonstrated that the Le Blanc and Santeuil viruses could coexist in one host population, one animal and one intestinal cell.
Molecular variation of the wild-caught viruses was assessed by sequencing their two RNA molecules. While both viruses’ diversities are geographically structured, we detected balancing selection on the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) locus in one local Santeuil population. Despite the frequent incidence of coinfection in the wild, we found no evidence for genetic exchange (recombination or RNA reassortment) between the Santeuil and Le Blanc viruses. However, we found clear evidence for RNA reassortment between different Santeuil virus variants.
Finally, we investigated natural variation in C. briggsae resistance to each virus. We tested a set of wild isolates -representative of C. briggsae worldwide diversity- for their sensitivity to the Santeuil and Le Blanc viruses. While temperate C. briggsae genotypes are generally susceptible to both viruses, the tested tropical C. briggsae genotypes are resistant to both viruses. Most interestingly, two Japanese C. briggsae genotypes show specific resistance to the Le Blanc virus. To understand the genetic basis of the general and virus-specific resistances of C. briggsae, we carried out a QTL-mapping approach using recombinant inbred lines between AF16 and HK104 (3) and identified a main QTL region on chromosome IV responsible for the variation in resistance to Santeuil virus infection.
(1) Félix, Ashe, Piffaretti et al. 2011 PloS Biology. (2) Franz et al. 2012 Journal of Virology. (3) Ross et al. 2011 PLoS Genetics..
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