Ive been *patiently* waiting two damn weeks for this paper to come out:
Gifford and Katzourakis are the same folks who found RELIK a while back– a lentiviral ERV in a species of European rabbit.
This time, after screening the available sequences of 21 primates (including humans and chimpanzees) they found two in the genome of gray mouse lemurs (Zaboomafoos cousin ). The gray mouse lemurs genome isnt totally sequenced yet, so they think there might be up to six lentiviral ERVs in these guys!
Why is this cool?
Well, first of all, we didnt know that lentiviruses could even turn into ERVs in primates. Scientists have run a fine-toothed comb through our (and chimpanzees) genome, and we hadnt found any. So we thought maybe lentiviruses physically couldnt endogenize for some reason, or maybe they were just ‘too young’, evolutionarily speaking.
Now we know that it is biologically possible for primates to endogenize lentiviruses, and lentiviruses could be older than we thought. Gifford et al proposed three models for the age of lentiviruses: 85 million years old (with relatively little genetic drift? eeeh…), 14 million years (okay…), or less than 10 million years (what i find most plausible).
But this isnt just ‘Oh cool!’ science. There are real world applications for finding endogenous lentiviruses in primates: we can study what happened in these gray mouse lemurs, and try to figure out how they controlled their uninvited genomic guests.
Because the lemur lentiviral ERVs?
They look like HIV-1.
They are proviral simian immunodeficiency virus.
But these lemurs have ‘domesticated’ the viruses.
These little lemurs could play a part in helping us figure out how to control HIV-1.
Oh, and as a fun side note, just for the lulz– Grimm et al included a figure connecting HIV-1, SIVs, BIV, EIAV, etc, where they identify when new genes with new functions evolved (or were lost).