Paleovirology is the study of ancient viruses. Unlike many multicellular organisms, viruses do not leave a true fossil record, meaning that their evolutionary biology over timescales spanning millions of years has, until recently, been poorly understood.
The genomes of multicellular organisms are riddled with fragments of viral infections, known as endogenous viral elements (EVEs), the most common of which are the vertebrate endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). These EVE and ERV sequences can be used to unravel the long-term evolutionary biology of viruses, and also to study the interactions between viruses and their hosts over geological timescales. The spread of EVE sequences within the host genome can also be understood in the context of the highly diverse set of selfish genetic elements that reside within the genomes of their hosts. Some of these EVEs are also functional – exapted sequences, used by the host for its own ends, such as mammalian placentation or antiviral defence. Other EVEs, while largely dormant, can occasionally be re-activated and cause serious disease in their host.
07/11/13 Gemmell et al. on Sex-specific aspects of endogenous retroviral insertion and deletion.
12/08/13 Just out – Theme issue on paleovirology in philosophical transactions of the royal society.
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