10.2217/FVL.10.61 © 2010 Future Medicine LtdAbstract
RNA viruses replicate as complex mutant spectra, also termed ‘mutant clouds’, known as viral quasispecies. While this is a widely observed viral population structure, it is less known that a number of biologically relevant features of this important group of viral pathogens depend on (or are strongly influenced by) the complexity and composition of mutant spectra. Among them, fitness increase or decrease depending on intrapopulation complementation or interference, selection triggered by memory genomes, pathogenic potential of viruses, disease evolution and the response to antiviral treatments. Quasispecies represent the recognition of complex behavior in viruses, and it is an oversimplification to equate such a population structure with the classic polymorphism of population biology. Darwinian principles acting on genome collectivities that replicate with high error rates provide a unique population structure prone to flexible and largely unpredictable behavior.