A gene enabling an insect virus to enter new cells was likely stolen from a host cell and adapted for the viruss use, researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University report.
Virologists have long thought of baculoviruses, a group of viruses that can liquefy their insect hosts in a matter of days but dont induce so much as a sneeze in mammals, as potential pesticides. But the viruses would require tweaking to be effective since they kill insects more slowly than chemical insecticides. Studying baculoviruses also yields insights into general viral behavior. The current study examined how baculoviruses took the evolutionary leap needed to become the nasty bugs they are today.
In the study, reported in the July 1 issue of the Journal of Virology, BTI researchers Gary Blissard and Oliver Lung investigated whether a fruit fly gene, called an f gene, had originally moved from an insect to a virus or the other way around. (Retroviruses, such as HIV, insert their own genes into their hosts DNA in order to replicate, and remnants of these invaders can be passed to descendants.) In viruses, an f gene codes for a fusion (F) protein, which enables the virus to penetrate the host cells membrane and infect it. Scientists had shown that some other viral genes were probably copied from host cells, but the origin of so-called fusion proteins, like F, has remained a mystery.
Shawna Williams | EurekAlert!
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