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Chimp genome reveals a retroviral invasion

not been conserved from a common ancestor, but are specific to each lineage.

PTERV1 contains three structural genes -- gag, pol, and env -- and regulatory sequences called long terminal repeats (LTRs). To further explore the evolutionary history of the retroviral elements, the authors compared the sequences of gag and pol, as well as the LTR sequences, for each infected primate species. The sequence history, they discovered, did not comport with the established evolutionary history of the primates themselves. Divergence between macaque and baboon was significantly greater than between gorilla and chimp -- even though slightly more evolutionary time separates gorilla and chimp than macaque and baboon.

When a retrovirus reproduces, identical copies of LTR sequences are created on either side of the retroviral element; the divergence of LTR sequences within a species can be used to estimate the age of an initial infection. Eichler and colleagues estimate that gorillas and chimps were infected about 3 -- 4 million years ago, and baboon and macaque about 1.5 million years ago. The disconnect between the evolutionary history of the retrovirus and the primates, the authors conclude, could be explained if the Old World monkeys were infected by "several diverged viruses" while gorilla and chimpanzee were infected by a single, though unknown, source.

As for how this retroviral infection bypassed orangutans and humans, the authors offer a number of possible scenarios but dismiss geographic isolation: even though Asian and African apes were mostly isolated during the Miocene era (spanning 24 to 5 million years ago), humans and African apes did overlap. It could be that African apes evolved a susceptibility to infection, for example, or that humans and Asian apes evolved resistance. A better understanding of the evolutionary history and population genetics of great apes will help identify the most likely scenarios. And knowing how these retroviral elemen
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Source:PLoS


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