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Microbial eukaryotes, giant viruses and virophages form a unique hyperparasitic system. Virophages are parasites of the virus transcription machinery and can interfere with virus replication, resulting in a benefit to the eukaryotic host population. Surprisingly, virophages can integrate into the genomes of their cell or virus hosts, and have been shown to reactivate during coinfection. This raises questions about the role of integration in the dynamics of cell-virus-virophage systems. We use mathematical models and computational simulations to understand the effect of virophage integration on populations of cells and viruses. We also investigate multicellularity and programmed cell-death (PCD) as potential antiviral defence strategies used by cells. We found that virophages which enter the cell independently of the host virus, such as Mavirus, are expected to integrate commonly into the genomes of their cell hosts. Our models suggest that integrations from virophages without an independent mode of entry like Sputnik, are less likely to become fixed in the cell host population. Alternatively, we found that Sputnik virophages can stably persist integrated in the virus population, as long as they do not completely inhibit virus replication. We also show that increasing virophage inhibition can stabilise oscillatory dynamics, which may explain the long-term persistence of viruses and virophages in the environment. Our results demonstrate that inhibition by virophages and multicellularity are effective antiviral strategies that may act in synergy against viral infection in microbial species.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Comput Biol

Publication Date





Humans, Virophages, Apoptosis, Biological Evolution, Coinfection, Antiviral Agents