The oldest retroviruses are found in human DNA

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Last reviewed: 20.05.2018

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20 April 2016, 09:00

Genetics revealed in the human DNA retroviruses, which, presumably, got there from our ancestors more than a million years ago. Retroviruses call a fairly wide family of viruses, affecting mainly vertebrates, the most famous and studied today representative of retroviruses is HIV

According to scientists, this discovery will help to know what the ancient people were sick, how they were treated, it is possible that this knowledge will help in developing methods of treatment for HIV and other retroviruses.

In the human genome, more than 10 fragments of retroviruses were identified, as well as the genome of the virus fully preserved in its original form. Experts noted that they can "pull out" the ancient virus from human DNA and make it capable of infecting an agent. John Coffin, a member of the research group, explained that the experiment is extremely interesting for the academic community, since it will allow to study the "behavior" of viruses in antiquity, even before the appearance of modern man.  

Endogenous retroviruses are able to penetrate and alter DNA, which causes various gene mutations, both innocuous and life-threatening. In the human genome, about 8% of the genes of endogenous retroviruses are detected, all of them enter non-coding DNA, i.e. In that part where there are no "instructions" for the production of proteins.

Dr. Coffin and his colleagues compared and analyzed the DNA structure of more than 2,000 people living in different countries. It is worth noting that the scientists also studied the African population, whose ancestors did not interbreed with Neanderthal or Denisov people. The study helped to establish that in human DNA contains a much larger number of retrovirus residues than expected.

Comparing the genomes of the most diverse people, scientists as a result have discovered those restoraviruses that are available to individual representatives of mankind. Scientists did not expect such results - the number of retroviruses turned out to be quite large, the Coffin group found only 20 endogenous retroviruses, one of which was a fully preserved virus, the rest were present in DNA only in fragments.

On the fragmentary parts of the virus, which are quite severely damaged and include many repetitions, specialists can not explain how these viruses behaved, penetrating the human body and what the consequences were.

The identified full retrovirus has all the necessary components for division: the genes necessary for the synthesis of proteins in the envelope, the incorporation into the DNA of the host cell, and the production of multiple copies.

According to the research group, the retrovirus detected today is the second one, which is completely present in our DNA (the first is the K113 provirus, which is found in the DNA of 1/4 of the population of the earth).

John Coffin said in his statement that understanding the past, it is possible to build the future, that is why the discovery is of great importance for science and will allow to study the disease and treatment processes more than a million years ago, and also to improve the treatment of modern retrovirus infections (HIV, malignant neoplasm of hematopoietic or lymphoid tissue, etc.)

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