Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Wallabies and Bats Harbor "Fossil" Genes from the Most Deadly Family of Human Viruses

Research reveals potential reservoir species, new mechanism for how mammals acquire genes

Modern marsupials may be popular animals at the zoo and in children's books, but new findings by University at Buffalo biologists reveal that they harbor a "fossil" copy of a gene that codes for filoviruses, which cause Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fevers and are the most lethal viruses known to humans.

Published this week in the online journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, the paper ("Filoviruses are ancient and integrated into mammalian genomes") demonstrates for the first time that mammals have harbored filoviruses for at least tens of millions of years, in contrast to the existing estimate of a few thousand.

It suggests that these species, which maintain a filovirus infection without negative health consequences, could have selectively maintained these so-called "fossil" genes as a genetic defense.

The work has important implications for the development of potential human vaccines, as well as for the modeling of disease outbreaks and the discovery of emerging diseases, including new filoviruses.

"This paper identifies the first captured 'fossil' copies of filovirus-like genes in mammalian genomes," says Derek J. Taylor, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences in the UB College of Arts and Sciences and co-author. "Our results confirm for the first time that several groups of mammals, including groups such as marsupials that never colonized Africa, have had an association with filoviruses."

The UB co-authors say that if the rarely captured genes represent antiviral defenses or genomic scars from persistent infections, then the work opens up new possibilities for identifying reservoir species for filoviruses, which harbor the virus but remain asymptomatic.

"The reservoir for filovirus has remained a huge mystery," says Jeremy A. Bruenn, PhD, UB professor of biological sciences and co-author. "We need to identify it because once a filovirus hits humans, it can be deadly."

When the UB researchers studied samples from the fur of a wallaby at the Buffalo Zoo and a brown bat caught on the UB campus, they found that the genomes of both animals as well as some other small mammals contain "fossil" copies of the gene for these deadly viruses, and thus could be candidate reservoir species for them.

"Who knew that the bats in the attic as well as modern marsupials harbored fossil gene copies of the group of viruses that is most lethal to humans," asks Taylor.

The research also demonstrates a new mechanism by which different species of mammals can acquire genes, through non-retroviral integrated RNA viruses, which the UB scientists had previously identified in eukaryotes but was unknown in mammals.

The UB scientists note that it is well-known that RNA retroviruses, like HIV-AIDS, can be integrated into mammal genomes.

"But because filoviruses infect only the cytoplasm of cells and not the nucleus and because they have no means of making DNA copies that might be integrated into the genome -- as retroviruses do -- it was never thought gene transfer could occur between non-retroviral RNA viruses and hosts," says Bruenn. "This paper shows that it does and it may prove to be a far more general phenomenon than is currently known."

The research also reveals that existing estimates that filoviruses originated in mammals a few thousand years ago were way off the mark.

"Our findings demonstrate that filoviruses are, at a minimum, between 10 million and 24 million years old, and probably much older," says Taylor. "Instead of having evolved during the rise of agriculture, they more likely evolved during the rise of mammals."

In addition to Bruenn and Taylor, Robert W. Leach, scientific programmer at the Center for Computational Research in UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, is a co-author on the paper.

The authors are actively involved with the Molecular Recognition in Biological Systems and Bioinformatics strategic strength identified as part of the UB2020 strategic planning process.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Lois Baker | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>