Within-host dynamics of the emergence of tomato yellow leaf curl virus recombinants

Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) is a highly damaging begomovirus native to the Middle East. TYLCV has recently spread worldwide, recombining with other begomoviruses. Recent analysis of mixed infections between TYLCV and Tomato leaf curl Comoros begomovirus (ToLCKMV) has shown that, although natural selection preserves certain co-evolved intra-genomic interactions, numerous and diverse recombinants are produced at 120 days post-inoculation (dpi), and recombinant populations from different tomato plants are very divergent. Here, we investigate the population dynamics that lead to such patterns in tomato plants co-infected with TYLCV and ToLCKMV either by agro-inoculation or using the natural whitefly vector Bemisia tabaci . We monitored the frequency of parental and recombinant genotypes independently in 35 plants between 18 and 330 dpi and identified 177 recombinants isolated at different times. Recombinants were detected from 18 dpi and their frequency increased over time to reach about 50% at 150 dpi regardless of the inoculation method. The distribution of breakpoints detected on 96 fully sequenced recombinants was consistent with a continuous generation of new recombinants as well as random and deterministic effects in their maintenance. A severe population bottleneck of around 10 genomes was estimated during early systemic infection-a phenomenon that could account partially for the heterogeneity in recombinant patterns observed among plants. The detection of the same recombinant genome in six of the thirteen plants analysed beyond 30 dpi supported the influence of selection on observed recombination patterns. Moreover, a highly virulent recombinant genotype dominating virus populations within one plant has, apparently, the potential to be maintained in the natural population according to its infectivity, within-host accumulation, and transmission efficiency - all of which were similar or intermediate to those of the parent genotypes. Our results anticipate the outcomes of natural encounters between TYLCV and ToLCKMV.