Laboratory methods in molecular epidemiology: viral infections

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Viruses, which are the most abundant biological entities on the planet, have been regarded as the "dark matter" of biology in the sense that despite their ubiquity and frequent presence in large numbers, their detection and analysis are not always straightforward. The majority of them are very small (falling under the limit of 0.5 μm), and collectively, they are extraordinarily diverse. In fact, the majority of the genetic diversity on the planet is found in the so-called virosphere, or the world of viruses. Furthermore, the most frequent viral agents of disease in humans display an RNA genome, and frequently evolve very fast, due to the fact that most of their polymerases are devoid of proofreading activity. Therefore, their detection, genetic characterization, and epidemiological surveillance are rather challenging. This review (part of the Curated Collection on Advances in Molecular Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases) describes many of the methods that, throughout the last few decades, have been used for viral detection and analysis. Despite the challenge of having to deal with high genetic diversity, the majority of these methods still depend on the amplification of viral genomic sequences, using sequence-specific or sequence-independent approaches, exploring thermal profiles or a single nucleic acid amplification temperature. Furthermore, viral populations, and especially those with RNA genomes, are not usually genetically uniform but encompass swarms of genetically related, though distinct, viral genomes known as viral quasispecies. Therefore, sequence analysis of viral amplicons needs to take this fact into consideration, as it constitutes a potential analytic problem. Possible technical approaches to deal with it are also described here.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberAME-0003-2018
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
VolumeVol. 6
Issue numbern.º 6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


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