Definition of Genetic meltdown

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Genetic meltdown: A genomic crisis due to an extraordinarily high rate of mutation, a phenomenon known to occur in viruses and perhaps in other organisms.

For example, the antiviral agent Ribavirin acts by inducing genomic meltdown. The drug accelerates the already-high mutation rate of RNA viruses, creates a genomic crisis, and destroys the infectivity of the virus.

There is a limit to how much variation a genome can tolerate without irretrievably degrading its genetic information. If a population of viruses is replicating at the brink, just a bit of extra pressure from a mutagen, such as ribavirin, can nudge it into the abyss of genetic meltdown, resulting in an inability for it to replicate and survive.

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