Public Release: 

Paleovirology expanded: Non-retroviral virus fragments found in animal genomes

PLOS

Understanding the evolution of life-threatening viruses like influenza, Ebola and dengue fever, could help us to minimize their impact. New research points the way to a fossil record of viruses that have insinuated themselves into the genomes of insects and other animals, providing clues about their evolutionary history. The findings, published online on November 18 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, could enable scientists to elucidate general principles in virus evolution from their genetic "fossils", which in turn could inform approaches for controlling disease.

Robert Gifford (Rockefeller University), and colleague Aris Katzourakis (Oxford University) used the rapidly advancing technology for genetic screening to analyze a database of insect, bird and mammal DNA for fragments of virus genomes, which they named endogenous viral elements (EVEs). The pair discovered representatives of ten families of viruses, including hepatitis B, Ebola, rabies, and dengue and yellow fevers integrated into the genomes studied.

"In some cases, we've got the first evidence of an ancient origin for some of these virus groups", said Gifford. While scientists have been aware of genetic signatures for retroviruses in animal genomes since the 1970s, much remains to be learned about these newly-discovered EVEs from non-retroviral viruses, including exactly how these virus fragments find their way into nuclear DNA.

Most of the fragments documented by Gifford are no longer functional, appearing like what is commonly referred to as "junk DNA." However, the findings suggest that some of these virus fragments may have been co-opted by their hosts at some point in their evolutionary history, perhaps as a defense against related infections. In particular, Gifford says that finding EVEs in insect genomes promises to reveal a new dimension in paleovirology, allowing scientists to probe the relationship and evolution of the virus, its vector and its host, potentially providing insight into the complex ecological relationships that underpin insect-borne diseases.

###

FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: RJG was supported by the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. AK was funded by the Wellcome Trust (Grant #: 086173/A/08/Z). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

COMPETING INTERESTS: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

CITATION: Katzourakis A, Gifford RJ (2010) Endogenous Viral Elements in Animal Genomes. PLoS Genet 6(11): e1001191. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001191

PLEASE ADD THIS LINK TO THE FREELY AVAILABLE ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (the link will go live when the embargo ends): http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pgen.1001191

PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plge-06-11-gifford.pdf

Disclaimer

This press release refers to an upcoming article in PLoS Genetics. The release is provided by journal staff, or by the article authors and/or their institutions. Any opinions expressed in this release or article are the personal views of the journal staff and/or article contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the releases and articles and your use of such information.

About PLoS Genetics

PLoS Genetics (http://www.plosgenetics.org) reflects the full breadth and interdisciplinary nature of genetics and genomics research by publishing outstanding original contributions in all areas of biology. All works published in PLoS Genetics are open access. Everything is immediately and freely available online throughout the world subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. For more information, visit http://www.plos.org.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.