Plant viruses, as any other living organisms, differ genetically from each other as a result of processes (such as mutation, recombination and other forms of genetic exchange) that generate genetic variation in each generation during their reproduction and processes (such as selection, migration and genetic drift) that modulate this variation, determine the distribution of the genetic variants within a population (i.e., the genetic structure of the population) and how it changes with time, in a dynamical phenomenon called evolution. For plant viruses, evolutionary forces that generate and modulate the genetic diversity of their populations are often associated to different phases in their biology and ecology, such as virus-host interactions and host to host transmission. Forces that shape the evolution of plant viruses are at the same time key factors affecting their pathogenic properties, including their ability to cause diseases (an aspect that is studied in the field of epidemiology). The present chapter aims to illustrate how measurement and analysis of genetic diversity and structure of plant virus populations are essential to the current knowledge on the evolutionary biology of plant viruses and how evolutionary factors have a relevant role in the dynamics of virus populations and therefore, in the epidemiology of plant virus diseases.
Part of the book: Genetic Diversity