Human Genome Hosts Bornavirus: RNA Virus Hitchhiker Invaded DNA at Least 40 Million Years Ago

By Saey, Tina Hesman | Science News, January 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

Human Genome Hosts Bornavirus: RNA Virus Hitchhiker Invaded DNA at Least 40 Million Years Ago


Saey, Tina Hesman, Science News


People may not be quite the humans they think they are. Or so suggests new research showing that the human genome is part born a virus.

Bornaviruses, a group of RNA viruses that cause disease in horses and sheep, first inserted their genetic material into ancestral human DNA at least 40 million years ago, the study shows. The findings, published January 7 in Nature, provide the first evidence that RNA viruses other than retroviruses (such as HIV) can stably integrate genes into host DNA. The new work may help reveal more about the evolution of RNA viruses.

"Our whole notion of ourselves as a species is slightly misconceived," says Robert Gifford, a paleovirologist at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City. Human DNA includes genetic contributions from bacteria and other organisms, and humans have even come to rely on some of these genes for basic functions like fighting infections.

Now Keizo Tomonaga of Osaka University in Japan and colleagues have found copies of the bornavirus N gene inserted in at least four locations in the human genome. …

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