Ferrets have a super rare ERV!

Ive always wanted a ferret.  When I was little, because of this (1m59s):

Now, because of stuff like this:

Ferrets arent just super cool pets, they also have a very rare ‘gift’– While all organisms genomes are littered with pirate DNA and endogenous retroviruses, endogenous lentiviruses have only been found in three creatures: Bunnies, lemurs, and now, ferrets!

Endogenous Lentiviral Elements in the Weasel Family (Mustelidae)

Lentiviruses are ‘complex’, in that they have the basics retroviruses need to survive, LTRs, gag, pol, and env, plus some bonus genes.  In this case, vif, tat, and rev (relatives of genes found in HIV).  The researchers determined this lentivirus settled into the ferrets genome 8-11 million years ago, but they couldnt figure out yet whether it is more related to HIV or the cat variant, feline immunodeficiency virus (it sorta sits right between their branches on a phylogenetic tree).

What does this mean?  Of course, lots of fun stuff, evolutionarily, but we might also have gained some new tools– It turns out you can infect ferret cells with HIV.  By studying how this endogenous lentivirus works, we might figure out how to make ferrets a good animal model for HIV (we aint got one).  Or maybe, learning more about this ferret lentivirus could help us make better gene therapy vectors (we loves us some lentiviral vectors, but at this point, we just have HIV).

I want a ferret.


  1. #1 JustaTech
    August 28, 2012

    Don’t they also do influenza research in ferrets? I’m not sure I’d be thrilled about a pet that could give me the flu. (I had a friend with a pair of rescue ferrets. They were cute, but kind of insane and very distructive.)

  2. #2 windy
    August 29, 2012

    JustaTech: yes, but you are much more likely to give a ferret the flu than the other way around, unless the ferret goes out a lot on its own (generally not a good idea)

    Ferrets are great (if a bit smelly), I’ve had ferrets before but they’re illegal where I currently live 🙁 If Abbie had one, it would probably boss Arnie around…

  3. #3 harold
    United States
    August 30, 2012

    Non-ferret follow-up from the last post –

    Thanks for the patient reply to my question about spumiviridae.

    In fact, this article and its citations are a pretty good basic intro to the topic.

  4. #4 clod
    August 31, 2012

    Fascinating Abbie…thanks. My ferret has just come in from the back garden dangling bits of a slug he’s eaten from his whiskers and pooped in the shower tray. You SURE you want one? Awww…they’re luvverly though… really.


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