Genomic fossils in lemurs shed light on origin and evolution of HIV and other primate lentiviruses

March 20, 2009

A retrovirus related to HIV became stably integrated into the genome of several lemurs around 4.2 million years ago, according to research led by Dr. Cédric Feschotte at the University of Texas, Arlington. Published March 20 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, the analysis of prosimian immunodeficiency virus (pSIV) offers new insights into the evolution of lentiviruses.

During replication, integrate within the chromosomes of their host cells. If germ cells are infected, the integrated viral DNA can be transmitted from parent to offspring and may eventually become assimilated as part of the genetic material of the host species. This 'endogenization' process has occurred repeatedly during evolution, and has involved diverse retroviruses, giving rise to a sizeable portion of the of many vertebrate species - for example, ~8% of the human genome. Until now, the process was believed to be extremely rare for lentiviruses, an evolutionarily elusive group of retroviruses that infect diverse mammals, including humans (in the form of human immunodeficiency virus []).

Based on 'fossil' sequences collected from different lemur species, the researchers computationally reconstructed an apparently intact and complete DNA sequence for the ancestral prosimian lentivirus. The discovery that two different species of endemic to Madagascar suffered, independently and quasi-simultaneously, multiple germline infections of pSIV provides evidence that lentiviruses have repeatedly infiltrated the germline of prosimian species.

These findings should allow future functional analysis of the extinct virus and advance our understanding of the biology of lentiviruses, including HIV. In addition, the characterization of this ancient lentivirus in lemurs raises the possibility that HIV-like retroviruses are still circulating today in the mammalian fauna of Madagascar.

More information: Gilbert C, Maxfield DG, Goodman SM, Feschotte C (2009) Parallel Germline Infiltration of a Lentivirus in Two Malagasy Lemurs. PLoS Genet 5(3): e1000425. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000425

Source: Public Library of Science (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Scientists edit gene mutations in inherited form of anemia

October 26, 2016

A Yale-led research team used a new gene editing strategy to correct mutations that cause thalassemia, a form of anemia. Their gene editing technique provided corrections to the mutations and alleviated the disease in mice, ...

Maternal blood test may predict birth complications

October 24, 2016

A protein found in the blood of pregnant women could be used to develop tests to determine the health of their babies and aid decisions on early elective deliveries, according to an early study led by Queen Mary University ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.