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Our DNA is 8% broken virus

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Was reading an article that said " There are 100,000 known fragments of viruses in the human genome, making up over 8% of our DNA. Most of this virus DNA has been hit by so many mutations that it’s nothing but baggage our species carries along from one generation to the next. Yet there are some viral genes that still make proteins in our bodies. "

So over time we have evolved thanks to these viruses. It will take time but HSV will become part of our genome. So why try to cure it. Why not break it. After all that is what will happen over time and evolution.

Anybody care to expand on that?

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I'm not exactly sure where you're going with this one. Evolutionary pathogenic resistance? That requires several generations and lots of deaths. Was the article talking about the viral genomic material picked up along the phylogenetic tree (i.e. while we were evolving from other species)?

Sometimes when a virus infects a cell instead of integrating correctly it fails leaving fragments that can't create new viral copies. This is especially true for viruses that we "catch" but aren't specific to our species. They infect a few cells but since we don't have the right machinery to productively replicate them (or we have the right immune response to beat them) they simply leave some useless DNA behind. This is the source of the baggage. It's not that we "broke" the virus.

Also, HSV has been evolving with humans since before we were human. Since it doesn't kill us or functionally limit our ability to procreate it won't be evolving away.

A person who figures out how to safely "break" the HSV viral genome (or any virus for that matter) in vivo without killing the host or causing cancer would win the Nobel Prize.

There is an effort ongoing to try and do what (I think) you're talking about but they are at least a decade away: http://cullenlab.duhs.duke.edu/faq/


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Thank you for posting the article. That is very interesting. The viruses they are specifically talking about are called retroviruses (a type of virus of which HSV is not). These viruses have the unique ability to actually integrate into host chrmosomal DNA.

Until the discovery of retroviruses (HIV being the most well known) it was not believed that RNA could become DNA. The central dogma was that DNA --> RNA --> Proteins [1]. Retroviruses added a special case to this dogma by which an enzyme carried by retroviruses called reverse transcriptase turns RNA back into DNA and integrates it into the chromosome using another enzyme called integrase. Two of the most effective classes of anti-HIV drugs are reverse transcriptase and integrase inhibitors.

HSV doesn't carry reverse transcriptase it simply drops DNA into the intracellular space that migrates into the nucleus, becomes a circular free standing plasmid and is read by the cellular machinery to make new HSV virons [2].

Viruses can however indirectly cause damage to chromosomes. Viruses have a tendency to hot-wire all sorts things inside a cell that can lead to chromosomal damage. HSV for instance prevents neurons from naturally dying when DNA damage from things like chemicals or radiation occur. HPV causes cancer by essentially jamming on certain cellular replication pathways that would normally be slower and less prone to chromosomal DNA replication errors.

The central postulation in the article is that the need to protect a fetus from viral attack was the driving evolutionary force for the development of a placenta and that before a placenta retroviruses were able to make direct changes to chromosomal DNA while while our phylogenetic ancestors were only a few cells old.


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