Mosquitoes Transmit Unique West Nile Virus Populations during Each Feeding Episode

Nathan D. Grubaugh, Joseph R. Fauver, Claudia Rückert, James Weger-Lucarelli, Selene Garcia-Luna, Reyes A. Murrieta, Alex Gendernalik, Darci R. Smith, Doug E. Brackney, Gregory D. Ebel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses), such as Zika virus, chikungunya virus, and West Nile virus (WNV), pose continuous threats to emerge and cause large epidemics. Often, these events are associated with novel virus variants optimized for local transmission that first arise as minorities within a host. Thus, the conditions that regulate the frequency of intrahost variants are important determinants of emergence. Here, we describe the dynamics of WNV genetic diversity during its transmission cycle. By temporally sampling saliva from individual mosquitoes, we demonstrate that virus populations expectorated by mosquitoes are highly diverse and unique to each feeding episode. After transmission to birds, however, most genetic diversity is removed by strong purifying selection. Further, transmission of potentially mosquito-adaptive WNV variants is strongly influenced by genetic drift in mosquitoes. These results highlight the complex evolutionary forces a novel virus variant must overcome to alter infection phenotypes at the population level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-718
Number of pages10
JournalCell Reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 25 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • West Nile virus
  • arboviruses
  • flaviviridae
  • flavivirus
  • mosquitoes
  • next generation sequencing
  • virus evolution
  • virus population biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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