family is the only non-enveloped virus family with members that use syncytium formation to promote cell–cell virus transmission. Syncytiogenesis is mediated by a fusion-associated small transmembrane (FAST) protein, a novel family of viral membrane fusion proteins. Previous evidence suggested the fusogenic reoviruses arose from an ancestral non-fusogenic virus, with the preponderance of fusogenic species suggesting positive evolutionary pressure to acquire and maintain the fusion phenotype. New phylogenetic analyses that included the atypical waterfowl subgroup of avian reoviruses and recently identified new orthoreovirus species indicate a more complex relationship between reovirus speciation and fusogenic capacity, with numerous predicted internal indels and 5’-terminal extensions driving the evolution of the orthoreovirus’ polycistronic genome segments and their encoded FAST and fiber proteins. These inferred recombination events generated bi- and tricistronic genome segments with diverse gene constellations, they occurred pre- and post-orthoreovirus speciation, and they directly contributed to the evolution of the four extant orthoreovirus FAST proteins by driving both the gain and loss of fusion capability. We further show that two distinct post-speciation genetic events led to the loss of fusion in the waterfowl isolates of avian reovirus, a recombination event that replaced the p10 FAST protein with a heterologous, non-fusogenic protein and point substitutions in a conserved motif that destroyed the p10 assembly into multimeric fusion platforms.
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