Mutational analysis of defective interfering (DI) RNAs of Cymbidium ringspot virus (CymRSV) was used to study the mechanism of DI RNA evolution. It was shown that a highly base-paired structure in the 3' region of the longer DI RNA directed the formation of smaller DI RNA molecules. Mutations which increased the stability of the computer-predicted, highly structured 3' region of the longest DI RNA of CymRSV significantly enhanced the generation and accumulation of the smaller derivatives. Sequence analysis of smaller progeny molecules revealed that the highly base-paired region was deleted from the precursor DI RNA. Moreover, sites of recombination were found in other regions of the DI RNA progenies due to transposition of the highly base-paired structure. It is likely that the deletion event was structure- and not sequence-specific, and operated when a foreign sequence containing a 37-nt-long base-paired stem was inserted at the appropriate position of DI RNA.
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