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Chimp genome reveals a retroviral invasion

It's been known for a long time that only 2% -- 3% of human DNA codes for proteins. Much of the rest of our genomes -- often referred to as junk DNA -- consists of retroelements: genomic elements that are transcribed into RNA, reverse-transcribed into DNA, and then reinserted into a new spot in the genome. Human endogenous retroviruses make up one class of these retroelements. Retroviruses can insinuate themselves into the host's DNA in either soma (nonreproductive cells) or the germline (sperm or egg).

If the virus invades a nonreproductive cell, infection may spread, but viral DNA will die with the host. A retrovirus is called endogenous when it invades the germline and gets passed on to offspring. Because endogenous retroviruses can alter gene function and genome structure, they can influence the evolution of their host species. Over 8% of our genome is made of these infectious remnants -- infections that scientists believe occurred before Old World and New World monkeys diverged (25 -- 35 million years ago).

In a new study, Evan Eichler and colleagues scanned finished chimpanzee genome sequence for endogenous retroviral elements, and found one (called PTERV1) that does not occur in humans. Searching the genomes of a subset of apes and monkeys revealed that the retrovirus had integrated into the germline of African great apes and Old World monkeys -- but did not infect humans and Asian apes (orangutan, siamang, and gibbon). This undermines the notion that an ancient infection invaded an ancestral primate lineage, since great apes (including humans) share a common ancestor with Old World monkeys.

Eichler and colleagues found over 100 copies of PTERV1 in each African ape (chimp and gorilla) and Old World monkey (baboon and macaque) species. The authors compared the sites of viral integration in each of these primates and found that few if any of these insertion sites were shared among the primates. It appears therefore that the sequences have
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Source:PLoS


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