Long-term evolution of viruses: A Janus-faced balance

Arshan Nasir, Kyung Mo Kim, Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The popular textbook image of viruses as noxious and selfish genetic parasites greatly underestimates the beneficial contributions of viruses to the biosphere. Given the crucial dependency of viruses to reproduce in an intracellular environment, viruses that engage in excessive killing (lysis) can drive their cellular hosts to extinction and will not survive. The lytic mode of virus propagation must, therefore, be tempered and balanced by non-lytic modes of virus latency and symbiosis. Here, we review recent bioinformatics and metagenomic studies to argue that viral endogenization and domestication may be more frequent mechanisms of virus persistence than lysis. We use a triangle diagram to explain the three major virus persistence strategies that explain the global scope of virus-cell interactions including lysis, latency and virus-cell symbiosis. This paradigm can help identify novel directions in virology research where scientists could artificially gain control over switching lytic and beneficial viral lifestyles. Also see the Video Abstract: http://youtu.be/GwXWz4N8o8.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1700026
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • beneficial viruses
  • persistence triangle
  • viral domestication
  • viral endogenization
  • virus-host interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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