Ancient co-speciation of simian foamy viruses and primates.
Although parasite-host co-speciation is a long-held hypothesis, convincing evidence for long-term co-speciation remains elusive, largely because of small numbers of hosts and parasites studied and uncertainty over rates of evolutionary change. Co-speciation is especially rare in RNA viruses, in which cross-species transfer is the dominant mode of evolution. Simian foamy viruses (SFVs) are ubiquitous, non-pathogenic retroviruses that infect all primates. Here we test the co-speciation hypothesis in SFVs and their primate hosts by comparing the phylogenies of SFV polymerase and mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit II from African and Asian monkeys and apes. The phylogenetic trees were remarkably congruent in both branching order and divergence times, strongly supporting co-speciation. Molecular clock calibrations revealed an extremely low rate of SFV evolution, 1.7 x 10(-8) substitutions per site per year, making it the slowest-evolving RNA virus documented so far. These results indicate that SFVs might have co-speciated with Old World primates for at least 30 million years, making them the oldest known vertebrate RNA viruses.