Our Viral Inheritance

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Science  17 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6134, pp. 820-821
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235148

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The enormous scale of the invasion of vertebrate genomes by viral sequences has become apparent through analyses of complete genomes. Sequences derived from many kinds of RNA (1) and DNA (2) viruses have found a convenient resting place in host genomes during evolution, and the process is ongoing. Retroviral genomes, the major and best understood viral insertions (3), alone account for 6 to 14% of the genomes analyzed to date, including ∼8% of human DNA. These endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) comprise more genomic DNA than that encoding the host proteome. The functionality or otherwise of this "junk" DNA has become the focus of an intense debate (4, 5). Here we consider a number of consequences of ERV acquisition (see the figure).