Medical Definition of Genetic meltdown

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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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Reviewed on 12/11/2018