The ERV thats killing koalas: KoRV

Creationists cant deal with ERVs. They have no answer to the problems ERVs pose to Creationism. They have no alternative explanation for the weight ERVs lend to evilution.

However, this doesnt stop Creationists from bluffing/lying to save face in front of the True Believers.

One of the more baffling responses Ive gotten to ERVs is ‘ERVs dont exist. They arent really ancient retroviral fossils.’ The most common response is ‘ERVs arent junk DNA! See, this one gene (out of 1,000,000 similar genes that are clearly junk) has been co-opted for use by the host! So, YAY JESUS!’

Real world, real time evidence against these two claims is currently trying to eliminate koalas as a species: Koala Retrovirus

Lets start at the beginning. A long time ago, zoologists/animal technicians/etc, noticed that their koalas werent dying from old age or falling out of trees or whatever– Koalas were dying from leukemias, others were getting lymphomas, and others were dying from complications of immunodeficiencies (a big one in koalas is chlamydia).

Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. Koalas were hunted to near extinction– this could be the result of non-optimal genetic diversity and inbreeding. Maybe its a transmissable cancer, like what happened to Tasmanian Devils as a result of their decrease in genetic diversity. Maybe eucalyptus trees are preferentially sucking up some carcinogen from the environment, and koalas are getting mega-doses of something awful from their diet. Since chlamydia is such a big deal in koalas, maybe their leukemias/lymphomas are the result of a different kind of koala-STD, like a koala-EBV or something.

Or maybe a retrovirus is causing all the trouble. Retroviruses cause leukemias and lymphomas and immunodeficiencies. Why not look?

The Nucleotide Sequence of Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) Retrovirus: a Novel Type C Endogenous Virus Related to Gibbon Ape Leukemia Virus

The virus they found, KoRV, is kinda related to Gibbon Ape Leukemia Virus. Gibbons live in Asia. Koalas live in Australia. How the hell did Koalas get infected with a Gibbon retrovirus?

There are a few answers for this.
1– KoRV isnt GaLV. We dont know if Koalas literally got this virus from literal Gibbons, that is, GaLV is the direct parent of KoRV (like SIV-cpz is the direct parent of HIV-1). They could have both been infected from a similar common ancestor, thus still appear related, but have both gone on their own respective evolutionary trajectories (like chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor. chimpanzees didnt directly evolve into humans).

2– There could have been an intermediary. Koalas didnt need to be hunting Gibbons to get a retrovirus from them. GaLV and KoRV are gammaretroviruses, related to Murine Leukemia Virus*. Rats can be infected with any of these, so they could have carried them from Asia to Australia, no prob.

3– An ancestor of ‘koalas’ could have been infected from an ancestor of ‘gibbons’ a bazillion years ago, when both ancestors shared a common environment. I mean, humans and chimpanzees and other old-world apes all share ERVs. Just because koalas and gibbons are environmentally separated now doesnt mean they always were.

Heres the problem with #3: There was a colony of koalas isolated from everyone else in the 1920s. They are fine. No KoRV. No evidence of KoRV.

And the KoRV they are finding in the koalas that are infected?

Its endogenous.

Its endogenous, at different locations in different koalas (sometimes they share a locus, sometimes there are novel ones).

Its endogenous, and its still very, very active. So active, its killing the koalas. An ERV that is not junk is killing koalas.

And the ‘youngest’ ERV weve ever found? HERV-Ks are the youngest ones weve got– millions of years old. Millions. I think pigs have a PERV that is ‘only’ 3.5 million years old. And now we are watching an endogenization event happen in koalas.

Or an extinction event.

:-/

* Isnt it weird how _LV retroviruses cause leukemias and lymphomas in their respective species, except for humans? And how people studying _LVs in other organisms have no drama and no difficulty using standard reagents, but people studying XMRV/human-MLV/magic-eye-MLV have all this trouble? Isnt that weird? I think thats weird. lol.

Comments

  1. #1 mcmillan
    September 15, 2010

    And now we are watching an endogenization event happen in koalas.

    That is really friggin cool

    Or an extinction event.

    Then I remembered that, dammit.

  2. #2 The Phytophactor
    September 15, 2010

    This is really no different than how creationists deal with vestigial characters (“structures whose function remains unknown”).

  3. #3 Poodle Stomper
    September 15, 2010

    There was also a very recent (1999ish) report of an endogenization of Herpes-6 in humans. It’s not a retrovirus but still cool…maybe cooler =)

  4. #4 Chiefley
    September 15, 2010

    ERVie,
    You are way cool. I am a big fan and this was a very interesting article. Keep us informed about this, plz.

    I am an old physicist who is fascinated by evolution and the culture war that surrounds it.

  5. #5 theshortearedowl
    September 15, 2010

    Poor koalas… but it is v cool science.

  6. #6 Rorschach
    September 15, 2010

    Couldn’t those koalas that are KoRV-free just be KoRV-free yet ? Quote from Nature abstract from 2006, via the same page you linked to :

    The finding that some isolated koala populations have not yet incorporated KoRV into their genomes, combined with its high level of activity and variability in individual koalas, suggests that KoRV is a virus in transition between an exogenous and endogenous element.

  7. #7 Ethan Siegel
    September 16, 2010

    Please, Abbie. I’ve got baby B-stars older than these guys!

    Great article, though. Isn’t science wonderful?

  8. #8 Poodle Stomper
    September 16, 2010

    Let’s also not forget the active ERVs in certain strains of mice (AKR/J for example). These lead to leukemia as well and are certainly not just junk. A partially endogenized form gave certain mice of Chinese ancestry resistance by overproducing just the gag region and saturating the receptors. Granted this even occurred a few hundred years ago but we still get to see it happening =)

  9. #9 Sili
    September 19, 2010

    So you’re saying there’s something out there that’s trying to kill all koalas. And this is somehow supposed to make me not believe in a kind and loving God?

    Good riddance, you shiteating, little dropbears! See you in Hell!

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