New knowledge about host-virus coevolution unmasked from the genomic record

December 22, 2014, Uppsala University

Retroviruses are important pathogens, which have attacked vertebrate hosts for millions of years. Researchers from Uppsala University and Lund University, now provide new knowledge about the long-term interactions of retroviruses and their hosts by analyzing endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), retroviruses whose genes have become part of the host organism's genome. The findings are now being published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Retroviruses, including HIV in humans, must become part of the host cell's genome to produce new viruses. Occasionally retroviruses infiltrate germ cells and transmit vertically to the host's offspring as ERVs. Consequently, ERVs make up large portions of vertebrate genomes and represent a record of past host-retrovirus interactions.

"This study demonstrates the powerful resource presented by the genomic ERV record to better understand host-retrovirus coevolution", says Patric Jern, Research fellow at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, who headed the study.

The researchers used recent technological advances in big-data analyses of whole genome sequences for new insights into retroviral evolution, diversity, host switching, and the factors influencing retroviral transmission. Around 36,000 ERVs recovered from 65 vertebrate genomes show that retroviruses are widespread across vertebrates and that retroviral lineages are either short-lived over evolutionary time or a considerable number of retroviruses await discovery. No major vertebrate lineage studied has escaped retroviral activity and appear to be extreme host generalists that frequently switch among distantly related hosts.

"We hope that these methods will be helpful in future studies by generating additional knowledge about the evolutionary ecology of viruses and their host species", says Patric Jern.

Explore further: New tales told by old infections

More information: Pan-vertebrate comparative genomics unmasks retrovirus macroevolution , PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1414980112

Related Stories

New tales told by old infections

November 25, 2013

Retroviruses are important pathogens capable of crossing species barriers to infect new hosts, but knowledge of their evolutionary history is limited. By mapping endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), retroviruses whose genes have ...

Koala study reveals clues about origins of the human genome

November 6, 2014

Eight percent of your genome derives from retroviruses that inserted themselves into human sex cells millions of years ago. Right now the koala retrovirus (KoRV) is invading koala genomes, a process that can help us understand ...

Viral relics show cancer's 'footprint' on our evolution

July 17, 2014

Viral relics show cancer's 'footprint' on our evolution Cancer has left its 'footprint' on our evolution, according to a study which examined how the relics of ancient viruses are preserved in the genomes of 38 mammal species.

Recommended for you

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.