It is generally accepted that mutation rates of RNA viruses are inherently high due to the lack of proofreading mechanisms. However, direct estimates of mutation rate are surprisingly scarce, in particular for plant viruses. Here, based on the analysis of in vivo mutation frequencies in tobacco etch virus, we calculate an upper-bound mutation rate estimation of 3×10−5 per site and per round of replication; a value which turns out to be undistinguishable from the methodological error. Nonetheless, the value is barely on the lower side of the range accepted for RNA viruses, although in good agreement with the only direct estimate obtained for other plant viruses. These observations suggest that, perhaps, differences in the selective pressures operating during plant virus evolution may have driven their mutation rates towards values lower than those characteristic of other RNA viruses infecting bacteria or animals.
Keywords: experimental evolution, mutation rate, plant virus, virus evolution