Monday, 14 October 2019

Koala epidemic provides lesson in how DNA protects itself from viruses

Date: October 10, 2019
Source: Cell Press



In animals, infections are fought by the immune system. Studies on an unusual virus infecting wild koalas, by a team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Queensland, reveal a new form of "genome immunity." The study appears October 10 in the journal Cell.

earRetroviruses, including pathogens like HIV, incorporate into the chromosomes of host cells as part of their infectious lifecycle. Retroviruses don't usually infect the germ cells that produce sperm and eggs and are therefore usually not passed from generation to generation, but this has happened several times during evolution. Out of the entire 3 billion nucleotides of the human genome, only 1.5% of the sequence forms the 20,000 genes that code for proteins -- and 8% of the human genome comes from fragments of viruses. These pathogen invasions of the genome have sometimes been beneficial. For example, a gene "co-opted" from a virus is required for formation of the placenta in all mammals, including humans.

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