Journal article Open Access
Iyer, Lakshminarayan M.; Balaji, S.; Koonin, Eugene V.; Aravind, L.
A previous comparative-genomic study of large nuclear and cytoplasmic DNA viruses (NCLDVs) of eukaryotes revealed the monophyletic origin of four viral families: poxviruses, asfarviruses, iridoviruses, and phycodnaviruses [Iyer, L.M., Aravind, L., Koonin, E.V., 2001. Common origin of four diverse families of large eukaryotic DNA viruses. J. Virol. 75 (23), 11720-11734]. Here we update this analysis by including the recently sequenced giant genome of the mimiviruses and several additional genomes of iridoviruses, phycodnaviruses, and poxviruses. The parsimonious reconstruction of the gene complement of the ancestral NCLDV shows that it was a complex virus with at least 41 genes that encoded the replication machinery, up to four RNA polymerase subunits, at least three transcription factors, capping and polyadenylation enzymes, the DNA packaging apparatus, and structural components of an icosahedral capsid and the viral membrane. The phylogeny of the NCLDVs is reconstructed by cladistic analysis of the viral gene complements, and it is shown that the two principal lineages of NCLDVs are comprised of poxviruses grouped with asfarviruses and iridoviruses grouped with phycodnaviruses-mimiviruses. The phycodna-mimivirus grouping was strongly supported by several derived shared characters, which seemed to rule out the previously suggested basal position of the mimivirus [Raoult, D., Audic, S., Robert, C., Abergel, C., Renesto, P., Ogata, H., La Scola, B., Suzan, M., Claverie, J.M. 2004. The 1.2-megabase genome sequence of Mimivirus. Science 306 (5700), 1344-1350]. These results indicate that the divergence of the major NCLDV families occurred at an early stage of evolution, prior to the divergence of the major eukaryotic lineages. It is shown that subsequent evolution of the NCLDV genomes involved lineage-specific expansion of paralogous gene families and acquisition of numerous genes via horizontal gene transfer from the eukaryotic hosts, other viruses, and bacteria (primarily, endosymbionts and parasites). Amongst the expansions, there are multiple families of predicted virus-specific signaling and regulatory domains. Most NCLDVs have also acquired large arrays of genes related to ubiquitin signaling, and the animal viruses in particular have independently evolved several defenses against apoptosis and immune response, including growth factors and potential inhibitors of cytokine signaling. The mimivirus displays an enormous array of genes of bacterial provenance, including a representative of a new class of predicted papain-like peptidases. It is further demonstrated that a significant number of genes found in NCLDVs also have homologs in bacteriophages, although a vertical relationship between the NCLDVs and a particular bacteriophage group could not be established. On the basis of these observations, two alternative scenarios for the origin of the NCLDVs and other groups of large DNA viruses of eukaryotes are considered. One of these scenarios posits an early assembly of an already large DNA virus precursor from which various large DNA viruses diverged through an ongoing process of displacement of the original genes by xenologous or non-orthologous genes from various sources. The second scenario posits convergent emergence, on multiple occasions, of large DNA viruses from small plasmid-like precursors through independent accretion of similar sets of genes due to strong selective pressures imposed by their life cycles and hosts.