Cross-protection and vector transmission bottlenecks have been proposed as mechanisms facilitating genetic isolation of sympatric viral lineages. Molecular markers were used to monitor establishment and resolution of mixed infections with genetically defined strains of wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV). Two closely related WSMV strains from the U.S. (Type and Sidney 81) exhibited reciprocal cross-protection in wheat, confirming this classic phenomenon as a mechanism of genetic isolation. In contrast, cross-protection between either US. strain and the divergent El Batan 3 strain from Mexico was unilateral, erratic, and only partially effective. Distribution of WSMV strains within individual leaves of plants supporting a mixed infection of Type and Sidney 81 was spatially nonuniform. Strain distribution among individual tillers of coinfected plants also was heterogeneous, with some containing either Type or Sidney 81 alone and some containing both. Transmission by wheat curl mites, acquiring virus from source plants simultaneously infected with both Type and Sidney 81, often resulted in test plants bearing only a single WSMV strain. Spatial subdivision of virus strains within coinfected plants likely contributed to vector transmission bottlenecks during acquisition. Collectively, these three distinct mechanisms enhance genetic isolation of individual viral lineages, and together with stochastic processes, may explain generation and maintenance of genetic diversity in field populations.
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