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Influenza B viruses make a considerable contribution to morbidity attributed to seasonal influenza. Currently circulating influenza B isolates are known to belong to two antigenically distinct lineages referred to as B/Victoria and B/Yamagata. Frequent exchange of genomic segments of these two lineages has been noted in the past, but the observed patterns of reassortment have not been formalized in detail. We investigate interlineage reassortments by comparing phylogenetic trees across genomic segments. Our analyses indicate that of the eight segments of influenza B viruses only segments coding for polymerase basic 1 and 2 (PB1 and PB2) and hemagglutinin (HA) proteins have maintained separate Victoria and Yamagata lineages and that currently circulating strains possess PB1, PB2, and HA segments derived entirely from one or the other lineage; other segments have repeatedly reassorted between lineages thereby reducing genetic diversity. We argue that this difference between segments is due to selection against reassortant viruses with mixed-lineage PB1, PB2, and HA segments. Given sufficient time and continued recruitment to the reassortment-isolated PB1-PB2-HA gene complex, we expect influenza B viruses to eventually undergo sympatric speciation.
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