Error thresholds 6 November 2003
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Christopher J Noble,
postdoctoral fellow
Bern Switzerland

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Re: Error thresholds

Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos writes: "Since Christopher Noble agrees with this view but says that we have misrepresented it would Christopher Noble tell us what number he regards as being the maximum allowable "error threshold" for RNA viruses? Is it as much as 5% or 80% or a percentage in between?"

Eleni does not seem to understand the papers that she reads.

The 'error threshold' does not relate to the genetic dissimilarity between highly divergent isolates of a virus such as HIV-1 group M and HIV-1 group O or influenza A H1N1 and influenza A H3N2 etc. Rather, it relates to an upper limit to the error rate in replication. HIV and other RNA viruses such as poliovirus have high mutation rates with somewhere around 0.1 and 1 mutations per genome per replication (0.01 - 0.001% of the genome per replication). These are very different concepts and yet Eleni is conflating the two.

The papers that Eleni has cited do not support her views. The authors of these papers do not agree with her.

It looks impressive to quote snippets from papers and to put lots of references at the bottom of your post, however, it is important that you; a) understand the papers, b) accurately describe the papers.

Eleni has done neither of these.

I ask again for her to admit that the claim that "the genomes of the most variable RNA viruses do not differ by more than 1%" is totally fallacious.

Competing interests: None declared