Inferring the rate and time-scale of dengue virus evolution

Twiddy SS, Holmes EC & Rambaut A

(2003) Mol Biol Evol 20, 122-129.

Dengue is often referred to as an emerging disease because of the rapid increases in incidence and prevalence that have been observed in recent decades. To understand the rate at which genetic diversification occurs in dengue virus and to infer the time-scale of its evolution, we employed a maximum likelihood method that uses information about times of virus sampling to estimate the rate of molecular evolution in a large number of viral envelope (E) gene sequences and to place bounds around the dates of appearance of all serotypes and specific genotypes. Our analysis reveals that dengue virus generally evolves according to a molecular clock, although some serotype-specific and genotype-specific rate differences were observed, and that its origin is more recent than previously suggested, with the virus appealing approximately 1000 years ago. Furthermore, we estimate that the zoonotic transfer of dengue from sylvatic (monkey) to sustained human transmission occurred between 125 and 320 years ago, that the current global genetic diversity in the four serotypes of dengue virus only appeared during the past century, and that the recent rise in genetic diversity can be loosely correlated both to human activities such as population growth, urbanization, and mass transport and to the emergence of dengue hemorrhagic fever as a major disease problem.

Andrew Rambaut, 2007