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Molecular breeding via DNA shuffling can direct the evolution of viruses with desired traits. By using a positive-strand RNA virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), as a model, rapid attenuation of the virus was achieved in this study by DNA shuffling of the viral envelope genes from multiple strains. The GP5 envelope genes of 7 genetically divergent PRRSV strains and the GP5-M genes of 6 different PRRSV strains were molecularly bred by DNA shuffling and iteration of the process, and the shuffled genes were cloned into the backbone of a DNA-launched PRRSV infectious clone. Two representative chimeric viruses, DS722 with shuffled GP5 genes and DS5M3 with shuffled GP5-M genes, were rescued and shown to replicate at a lower level and to form smaller plaques in vitro than their parental virus. An in vivo pathogenicity study revealed that pigs infected with the two chimeric viruses had significant reductions in viral-RNA loads in sera and lungs and in gross and microscopic lung lesions, indicating attenuation of the chimeric viruses. Furthermore, pigs vaccinated with the chimeric virus DS722, but not pigs vaccinated with DS5M3, still acquired protection against PRRSV challenge at a level similar to that of the parental virus. Therefore, this study reveals a unique approach through DNA shuffling of viral envelope genes to attenuate a positive-strand RNA virus. The results have important implications for future vaccine development and will generate broad general interest in the scientific community in rapidly attenuating other important human and veterinary viruses.


Yan-Yan Ni, Tanja Opriessnig, Lei Zhou, Dianjun Cao, Yao-Wei Huang, Patrick G Halbur, Xiang-Jin Meng. Attenuation of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus by molecular breeding of virus envelope genes from genetically divergent strains. Journal of virology. 2013 Jan;87(1):304-13

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PMID: 23077307

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