Recombination is a mechanism whereby positive sense single stranded RNA viruses exchange segments of genetic information. Recent phylogenetic analyses of naturally occurring recombinant flaviviruses have raised concerns regarding the potential for the emergence of virulent recombinants either post-vaccination or following co-infection with two distinct wild-type viruses. To characterize the conditions and sequences that favor RNA arthropod-borne virus recombination we constructed yellow fever virus (YFV) 17D recombinant crosses containing complementary deletions in the envelope protein coding sequence. These constructs were designed to strongly favor recombination, and the detection conditions were optimized to achieve high sensitivity recovery of putative recombinants. Full length recombinant YFV 17D virus was never detected under any of the experimental conditions examined, despite achieving estimated YFV replicon co-infection levels of ~2.4×10 6 in BHK-21 (vertebrate) cells and ~1.05×10 5 in C 710 (arthropod) cells. Additionally YFV 17D superinfection resistance was observed in vertebrate and arthropod cells harboring a primary infection with wild-type YFV Asibi strain. Furthermore recombination potential was also evaluated using similarly designed chikungunya virus (CHIKV) replicons towards validation of this strategy for recombination detection. Non-homologus recombination was observed for CHIKV within the structural gene coding sequence resulting in an in-frame duplication of capsid and E3 gene. Based on these data, it is concluded that even in the unlikely event of a high level acute co-infection of two distinct YFV genomes in an arthropod or vertebrate host, the generation of viable flavivirus recombinants is extremely unlikely.
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