PLoS One 2018 7;13(9):e0198303. Epub 2018 Sep 7.
Stony Brook University, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, Stony Brook, New York, United States of America.
Dengue virus (DENV), an arthropod-borne ("arbovirus") virus, causes a range of human maladies ranging from self-limiting dengue fever to the life-threatening dengue shock syndrome and proliferates well in two different taxa of the Animal Kingdom, mosquitoes and primates. Mosquitoes and primates show taxonomic group-specific intolerance to certain codon pairs when expressing their genes by translation. This is called "codon pair bias". By necessity, dengue viruses evolved to delicately balance this fundamental difference in their open reading frames (ORFs). We have undone the evolutionarily conserved genomic balance in the DENV2 ORF sequence and specifically shifted the encoding preference away from primates. However, this recoding of DENV2 raised concerns of 'gain-of-function,' namely whether recoding could inadvertently increase fitness for replication in the arthropod vector. Using mosquito cell lines and two strains of Aedes aegypti we did not observe any increase in fitness in DENV2 variants codon pair deoptimized for humans. This ability to disrupt and control DENV2's host preference has great promise towards developing the next generation of synthetic vaccines not only for DENV but for other emerging arboviral pathogens such as chikungunya virus and Zika virus.