A peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) enjoying the Scottish summer.
Novel ERV and retrovirus genome sequences
In association with an upcoming publication describing our investigation into the origin and evolution of reticuleoendotheliosis virus (REV), we have updated our retroviral reference sequence library to include novel endogenous and exogneous retrovirus genome sequences identified in the course of our study. We sequenced the complete genomes of two unusual endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) in mammalian genomes, and of an isolate of REV obtained in the 1970s (called duck infectious anemia virus [DIAV]). The consensus genome sequences of these viruses have been made available in our online retroviral reference sequence library. In addition we have created reference genome sequences to represent two major lineages of ERV present in avian genomes, including the recently released peregrine falcon (pictured), mallard and rock dove genomes.
Extreme genetic fragility of the HIV-1 capsid
In molecular genetics, robustness or fragility can be defined as the ability, or lack thereof, of a gene to maintain function in the face of molecular sequence changes. Extensive, random mutagenesis of single amino acids in the HIV-1 capsid protein (CA) revealed it to be extremely fragile. In fact, HIV-1 CA was revealed to be the most genetically fragile protein ever analyzed using such an approach. Approximately 70% of single mutations resulted in a non-viable virus.
Although CA participates in several steps in HIV-1 replication, the biological basis for its genetic fragility was primarily the need to participate in the efficient and proper assembly of mature virion particles.
Anna sampling sheep and goats in Lebanon.
Small ruminant lentivirus diversity in the Fertile Crescent
Since the 1950s, a range of lentiviruses that infect livestock have been characterized, including bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV) in cattle, equine infectious anemia (EIAV) in horses, and 'small ruminant' lentiviruses (SRLVs) in goats and sheep. SRLVs cause persistent infections associated with chronic debilitating diseases that ultimately lead to multi-organ failure and death, and are relatively common in sheep and goat herds throughout the world. However, due to the chronic nature of disease, often marked by long asymptomatic periods, SRLV infection can easily go undetected.
Domestication of sheep and goats is believed to have taken place ~10,000 years ago in the 'Fertile Crescent', an area which includes regions of present day Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria . During the late summer of 2012 we explored the diversity of SRLVs infecting sheep and goats in the Fertile Crescent area, as part of a broader investigation into the origins of the SRLV pandemic.
What is paleovirology?
Paleovirology addresses the long-term evolutionary history of viruses. Traces of this history are embedded in the biodiversity of contemporary species. For example, the architectures of proteins and nucleic acids contain information about the early evolution of viruses [1, 2], and in host species, the sequences of 'antiviral' genes contain the signatures of their epic evolutionary conflicts with viral antagonists [3, 4, 5].
Another means by which the ancient history of viruses can be investigated is through recovery of the viral 'fossil record' [6, 7, 8]. Eukaryotic genomes contain thousands of DNA sequences that are derived from ancient viruses. These endogenous viral elements (EVEs) arise when infection causes genetic material derived from a virus to become integrated into the host germline, such that viral genes can be inherited as host alleles. Over millions of years, repeated genome invasions by viruses have occurred, and some of the resulting EVEs have become fixed in the host germline - these DNA sequences are viral fossils.
Recent years have seen vast advances in the affordability and power of DNA sequencing technologies, and genome sequence data are accumulating at an accelerating pace. This deluge of sequence data provides unprecedented scope for paleovirological studies of the virus fossil record.