A new study has just found that several ancient viruses hidden in the human DNA. Scientists were surprised to discover no less than nineteen DNA pieces, leftovers from prehistoric viruses.
It appears our DNA shows signs of the first infectious viruses that affected our ancestors. The pathogens are named endogenous retroviruses (ERV), and they used to be passed between different generations. Fortunately, they have suffered mutations that disabled the capability of causing infections. In this way, the ERV was eventually included in human DNA.
The astounding discovery was made by a team of geneticists and scientists from the Medical School of the University of Michigan and the Tufts University. Together, they found nineteen pieces of DNA belonging to ancient viruses that are currently hibernating. In order to reach this result, the team had to examine 2,500 people. The findings showed that fifty individuals showed signs of the new DNA, and were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
Whether the virus has the ability to replicate is yet to be determined, but scientists are certain that ancient viruses can still affect human carriers. Over the last couple of years, they have found seventeen pieces of DNA from viruses in the human genome. The current study focused on the entire genome.
The researchers had to take a look at the whole span of DNA taken from various people across the globe. They did focus however on the individuals who live in Africa because that is the continent where people came from before conquering the whole planet.
According to doctoral student Zachary Williams from the Tufts University Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences,
“Many studies have tried to link these endogenous viral elements to cancer and other diseases, but a major difficulty has been that we haven’t actually found all of them yet.”
The study sheds light on the matter of HERVs, human endogenous retroviruses, as they have the extraordinary capacity of infiltrating between our genes that determine the color of our hair and eyes or the medical conditions we will have to go through.
Fortunately, there are always good things coming from the bad. The fact that HERV sequences were adopted by the human body has also led to beneficial effects. For example, pregnant women are able to build a layer made of cells in order to protect a developing baby from the antibodies and toxins found in her blood.
The viral genome has been named Xq21 because it was discovered on the chromosome X while the new HERVs belong to the HERV-K virus family.
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