Viruses rely upon their hosts for biosynthesis of viral RNA, DNA and protein. This dependency frequently engenders strong selection for virus genome compatibility with potential hosts, appropriate gene regulation and expression necessary for a successful infection. While bioinformatic studies have shown strong correlations between codon usage in viral and host genomes, the selective factors by which this compatibility evolves remain a matter of conjecture. Engineered to include codons with a lesser usage and/or tRNA abundance within the host, three different attenuated strains of the bacterial virus X174 were created and propagated via serial transfers. Molecular sequence data indicate that biosynthetic compatibility was recovered rapidly. Extensive computational simulations were performed to assess the role of mutational biases as well as selection for translational efficiency in the engineered phage. Using bacteriophage as a model system, we can begin to unravel the evolutionary processes shaping codon compatibility between viruses and their host.
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The authors would like to thank Adam Hilterbrand and Ramunas Stanciauskas for their assistance in fitness assays as well as Dr. Jeffrey Doering for comments regarding the manuscript. CP’s work was supported by a Research Support Grant from Loyola University Chicago for the funding of supplies.