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Viruses frequently spread among cells or hosts in groups, with multiple viral genomes inside the same infectious unit. These collective infectious units can consist of multiple viral genomes inside the same virion, or multiple virions inside a larger structure such as a vesicle. Collective infectious units deliver multiple viral genomes to the same cell simultaneously, which can have important implications for viral pathogenesis, antiviral resistance, and social evolution. However, little is known about why some viruses transmit in collective infectious units, whereas others do not. We used a simple evolutionary approach to model the potential costs and benefits of transmitting in a collective infectious unit. We found that collective infectious units could be favoured if cells infected by multiple viral genomes were significantly more productive than cells infected by just one viral genome, and especially if there were also efficiency benefits to packaging multiple viral genomes inside the same infectious unit. We also found that if some viral sequences are defective, then collective infectious units could evolve to become very large, but that if these defective sequences interfered with wild-type virus replication, then collective infectious units were disfavoured.

Original publication




Journal article


Virus Res

Publication Date





94 - 101


Bloc transmission, Collective infection, Collective infectious unit, Defective interfering genome, Multiplicity of infection, Virus evolution