BACKGROUND: Viruses of the genus Begomovirus (family Geminiviridae) have genomes consisting of either one or two genomic components. The component of bipartite begomoviruses known as DNA-A is homologous to the genomes of all geminiviruses and encodes proteins required for replication, control of gene expression, overcoming host defenses, encapsidation and insect transmission. The second component, referred to as DNA-B, encodes two proteins with functions in intra- and intercellular movement in host plants. The origin of the DNA-B component remains unclear. The study described here was initiated to investigate the relationship between the DNA-A and DNA-B components of bipartite begomoviruses with a view to unraveling their evolutionary histories and providing information on the possible origin of the DNA-B component.

RESULTS: Comparative phylogenetic and exhaustive pairwise sequence comparison of all DNA-A and DNA-B components of begomoviruses demonstrates that the two molecules have very distinct molecular evolutionary histories and likely are under very different evolutionary pressures. The analysis highlights that component exchange has played a far greater role in diversification of begomoviruses than previously suspected, although there are distinct differences in the apparent ability of different groups of viruses to utilize this "sexual" mechanism of genetic exchange. Additionally we explore the hypothesis that DNA-B originated as a satellite that was captured by the monopartite progenitor of all extant bipartite begomoviruses and subsequently evolved to become the integral (essential) genome component that we recognize today. The situation with present-day satellites associated with begomoviruses provides some clues to the processes and selection pressures that may have led to the "domestication" of a wild progenitor of the DNA-B component.

CONCLUSIONS: The analysis has highlighted the greater genetic variation of DNA-B components, in comparison to the DNA-A components, and that component exchange is more widespread than previously demonstrated and confined to viruses from the Old World. Although the vast majority of New World and some Old World begomoviruses show near perfect co-evolution of the DNA-A and DNA-B components, this is not the case for the majority of Old World viruses. Genetic differences between Old and New World begomoviruses and the cultivation of exotic crops in the Old World are likely factors that have led to this dichotomy.

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Published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, v. 10.

© 2010 Briddon et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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