Jean-Sélim Driouich, Souand Mohamed Ali, Abdennour Amroun, Fabien Aubry, Xavier de Lamballerie & Antoine Nougairède
Reverse genetics systems enable the manipulation of viral genomes and are proving to be essential for studying RNA viruses. Methods for generating clonal virus populations are particularly useful for studying the impact of genomic modifications on viral properties. Here, by exploiting a chikungunya virus model, we compare viral populations and their replicative fitness when generated using either the rapid and user-friendly PCR-based ISA (Infectious Subgenomic Amplicons) method or classical infectious clone technology. As anticipated, the ISA method resulted in greater genetic diversity of the viral populations, but no significant difference in viral fitness in vitro was observed. On the basis of these results, a new ISA-derived reverse genetics procedure was developed. This method, designated ‘SuPReMe’ (Subgenomic Plasmids Recombination Method), in which digested plasmids containing subgenomic DNA fragments were directly transfected into permissive cells, retains the following major advantages of the ISA method: it is rapid, flexible and does not require the cloning of complete genomes. Moreover, SuPReMe has been shown to produce virus populations with genetic diversity and replicative fitness similar to those obtained using conventional infectious clone technology. SuPReMe, therefore, represents an effective and promising option for the rapid generation of clonal recombinant populations of single-stranded positive-sense RNA viruses.