Baculovirus genomes are covalently closed circles of double stranded-DNA varying in size between 80 and 180 kilobase-pair. The genomes of more than fourty-one baculoviruses have been sequenced to date. The majority of these (37) are pathogenic to lepidopteran hosts; three infect sawflies (Hymenoptera) and one has a mosquito host (Diptera). With this information, general patterns of genome structure and gene content became apparent. Baculovirus open reading frames are tightly packed with minimal intergenic regions and the coding sequences are almost equally distributed over both strands. Baculovirus genes form single transcription units, with early and late transcribed ORFs scattered along the genome. A set of twenty nine core genes is conserved and therefore is characteristic for baculoviruses. Most baculovirus genomes contain multiple homologous regions with repeated sequences and often palindromic motifs, which play a crucial role as enhancers of early transcription and most likely in viral DNA replication. Baculovirus genomes have a certain degree of plasticity, as evidenced from the genomic variations within virus isolates from the field. Recombination events and transposon insertions appear to play a role in the uptake of new genes from co-infecting viruses or from the insect host. This review deals with the structural and functional properties of baculovirus genomes including both conserved and variable genes.
Keywords: occlusion derived virions, AcMNPV genome, Lymantria dispar, Open Reading Frames, CAGT motif, DNA polymerases
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