Depto. de Biotecnología, E. T. S. I. Agrónomos, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
From 1986 to 1992, an epidemic of tomato necrosis caused by Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) plus CMV satellite RNAs (satRNAs) occurred in eastern Spain. From 1989 onward, the frequency of tomato necrosis di-minshed, and it almost completely disappeared after 1991. Analyses of plants infected with CMV and with CMV satRNA and of the phenotype (necrogenic or nonnecrogenic for tomato) induced by some CMV satRNA variants, showed that the disappearance of tomato necrosis was due to changes in the genetic composition of the satRNA population (i.e., to its evolution toward decreased virulence). Analysis of components of the fitness of satRNA variants, necrogenic or nonnecrogenic for tomato, showed that necrogenic and nonnecrogenic variants did not differ in infectivity or in their accumulation level in tomato and that they represented the same fraction of encapsidated RNA. Other fitness components were positively correlated with the greater virulence of necrogenic variants, in that they were favored in mixed infections with nonnecrogenic variants and were more effectively passed into CMV progeny than were nonnecrogenic variants. On the other hand, necrogenic CMV satRNA variants caused a more pronounced depression in the accumulation of CMV than did nonnecro-genic variants, which could affect the efficiency of aphid transmission. Thus, the evolution of virulence in the CMV satRNA population can be explained by trade-offs between factors that determine virulence and factors that affect transmission, as predicted by theoretical models on the evolution of virulence in parasites.