A highly divergent South African geminivirus species illuminates the ancient evolutionary history of this family
Background: We have characterised a new highly divergent geminivirus species, Eragrostis curvula streak virus (ECSV), found infecting a hardy perennial South African wild grass. ECSV represents a new genus-level geminivirus lineage, and has a mixture of features normally associated with other specific geminivirus genera. Results: Whereas the ECSV genome is predicted to express a replication associated protein (Rep) from an unspliced complementary strand transcript that is most similar to those of begomoviruses, curtoviruses and topocuviruses, its Rep also contains what is apparently a canonical retinoblastoma related protein interaction motif such as that found in mastreviruses. Similarly, while ECSV has the same unusual TAAGATTCC virion strand replication origin nonanucleotide found in another recently described divergent geminivirus, Beet curly top Iran virus (BCTIV), the rest of the transcription and replication origin is structurally more similar to those found in begomoviruses and curtoviruses than it is to those found in BCTIV and mastreviruses. ECSV also has what might be a homologue of the begomovirus transcription activator protein gene found in begomoviruses, a mastrevirus-like coat protein gene and two intergenic regions. Conclusion: Although it superficially resembles a chimaera of geminiviruses from different genera, the ECSV genome is not obviously recombinant, implying that the features it shares with other geminiviruses are those that were probably present within the last common ancestor of these viruses. In addition to inferring how the ancestral geminivirus genome may have looked, we use the discovery of ECSV to refine various hypotheses regarding the recombinant origins of the major geminivirus lineages.