The primary goal of this dissertation is the study of patterns of viral evolution inferred from serially-sampled sequence data, i.e., sequence data obtained from strains isolated at consecutive time points from a single patient or host. RNA viral populations have an extremely high genetic variability, largely due to their astronomical population sizes within host systems, high replication rate, and short generation time. It is this aspect of their evolution that demands special attention and a different approach when studying the evolutionary relationships of serially-sampled sequence data. New methods that analyze serially-sampled data were developed shortly after a groundbreaking HIV-1 study of several patients from which viruses were isolated at recurring intervals over a period of 10 or more years. These methods assume a tree-like evolutionary model, while many RNA viruses have the capacity to exchange genetic material with one another using a process called recombination.
A genealogy involving recombination is best described by a network structure. A more general approach was implemented in a new computational tool, Sliding MinPD, one that is mindful of the sampling times of the input sequences and that reconstructs the viral evolutionary relationships in the form of a network structure with implicit representations of recombination events. The underlying network organization reveals unique patterns of viral evolution and could help explain the emergence of disease-associated mutants and drug-resistant strains, with implications for patient prognosis and treatment strategies. In order to comprehensively test the developed methods and to carry out comparison studies with other methods, synthetic data sets are critical. Therefore, appropriate sequence generators were also developed to simulate the evolution of serially-sampled recombinant viruses, new and more through evaluation criteria for recombination detection methods were established, and three major comparison studies were performed. The newly developed tools were also applied to “real” HIV-1 sequence data and it was shown that the results represented within an evolutionary network structure can be interpreted in biologically meaningful ways.