Ancient Viruses Trapped in Our DNA
Scientists have uncovered clues as to how our genomes became riddled with viruses, some dating back 100 million years. More than 90 per cent of every mammal’s genome has no known function, with much of this genetic ‘dark matter’ harboring pieces of DNA from ancient viruses that infected our ancestors.
The new investigation, by researchers at Oxford University, the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York and the Rega Institute in Belgium examines how these ancient viruses got into their hosts’ genomes in such abundance. The team searched the genomes of 38 mammals covering a large range of species, from mouse, rat and bat to human, elephant and dolphin, collecting genetic material from all of the residing viruses and comparing it using mathematical models.