Viruses survive often harsh host environments, yet we know little about the strategies they utilize to adapt and subsist given their limited genomic resources. We are beginning to appreciate the surprising versatility of viral genomes and how replication-competent and -defective virus variants can provide means for adaptation, immune escape and virus perpetuation. This Review summarizes current knowledge of the types of defective viral genomes generated during the replication of RNA viruses and the functions that they carry out. We highlight the universality and diversity of defective viral genomes during infections and discuss their predicted role in maintaining a fit virus population, their impact on human and animal health, and their potential to be harnessed as antiviral tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1075-1087
Number of pages13
JournalNature microbiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


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