Animal genomes riddled with the ‘skeletons’ of ancient viruses

The Great Beyond

It’s time for animals – including humans – to admit that the bacteria, viruses and other microbes have won. Our bodies are home to many times more bacterial cells than animal cells and countless trillions of viruses. Ancient retroviruses make up a good size chunk of our genome. Now, scientists have discovered that most any virus can set up shop in an animal’s genomes and lay dormant for millions of years.

A scan of 44 mammal genomes, plus those of several mosquito and tick vectors and two birds that could serve as reservoirs, has uncovered DNA sequences that can be traced to 10 different families of viruses, including some related to viruses that cause hepatitis B, Ebola, rabies and dengue. Most of the viral sequences are riddled with enough mutations to be considered junk, but some appear to encoding working genes co-opted by their host. The work is published online today in the journal PLoS Genetics.

Read more here.

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