Paleovirology: Finding EVEs in Mosquitoes

The study of ancient viruses is termed paleovirology. The aim of this program is to find ancient viruses, or ‘fossil remnants of viruses’. The genomes of animals and insects contain traces of past viral infections through the integration of viral genetic material into the host genome, termed endogenous viral elements (EVEs). These viral fossils can be used to find viruses that existed thousands of years ago. Around 5% of the human genome is comprised of EVEs, of which the vast majority are retroviruses that naturally insert their genomes into the host genome as part of their life cycle. For other viruses, germ line integration is rare, but has been documented in many organisms.

The genomes of Aedes mosquitoes contain numerous sequences exhibiting similarity to RNA viruses of the Flaviviridae family. Using the Aedes aegyptii genome we have identified ~220 EVEs, some of which can be reassembled to create partial genomes of ancient viruses. We aim to find more viral fossils in the genomes of other animals and insects.

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