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8% of Your DNA Comes From a Virus 478

An anonymous reader writes "About 8 percent of human genetic material comes from a virus and not from our ancestors, according to an article by University of Texas at Arlington biology professor Cédric Feschotte, published in the Jan. 7, 2010 issue of Nature magazine."
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8% of Your DNA Comes From a Virus

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  • Humans are a virus!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by dsavi ( 1540343 )
      Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure. Okay that's done with.
      • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:03PM (#30683352) Journal
        The moral of the story is, cannibalism really does allow you to take your enemies strength. That's why we eat Jesus' flesh on Sundays, so we can absorb his holy virus and become like God.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:09PM (#30683446)

          That's why I eat copious amounts of pasta, so that I, too, may be touched by His Noodly Appendage.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Opportunist ( 166417 )

            So with more MSG from all the chinese food I might become the next Buddha? About time, I already have had his body for a while.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jhoegl ( 638955 )
          Ahhh religion, where changing flesh into bread and blood into wine isnt considered "witchcraft". Yet all other "magics" was at one time punishable.
          Hypocrisy, it loves religion.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by nedlohs ( 1335013 )

            How is that hypocrisy?

            Raising the dead, walking on water, healing the sick, etc, etc. All can be done* by God as a miracle or by demons as witchcraft. It's not hypocrisy, it's caring about the source more than the action.

            Having another religion is usually punishable, again not hypocrisy just standard religion.

            * According to believers, a set I'm not a member of so I really should stop talking about their business...

          • by AmberBlackCat ( 829689 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @01:58PM (#30685120)

            Ahhh religion, where changing flesh into bread and blood into wine isnt considered "witchcraft". Yet all other "magics" was at one time punishable. Hypocrisy, it loves religion.

            And Slashdot, where every story about biology turns into an attack on Christianity or some other faith. Things were different in the Pit & the Pendulum days, but lately it seems like you attack them way more than they attack you.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by pluther ( 647209 )

              Yes, because there's no real difference between pulling people out of their homes and torturing them to death and making fun of people's ignorance in an online forum.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Ahhh religion, where changing flesh into bread and blood into wine isnt considered "witchcraft". Yet all other "magics" was at one time punishable.
            Hypocrisy, it loves religion

            Ahhh science, where one logical theory is considered wrong but another one can be considered right.
            Hypocrisy loves science too when you oversimplify like you did with religion.

    • by causality ( 777677 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:01PM (#30683312)

      Humans are a virus!

      Before the Matrix, there was Bill Hicks: "I'm tired of this back-slapping 'isn't humanity neat' bullshit. We're a virus with shoes, okay?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Knara ( 9377 )
        Yeah, but Hugo Weaving said it with such style. Hicks had some funny stuff, but really, he was like a more insightful Sam Kinison who didn't yell as much.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by hairyfeet ( 841228 )

          I don't think Bill and Sam were anything alike at all. Sam was an ex-preacher and a showman, and while he would do the occasional dark bits he would always lighten them up by going over the top. Bill OTOH hated hypocrisy in all its forms and you could tell didn't really like the bullshit and insanity he saw around him every day. He was MUCH more dark in his humor and very acidic in his tone.

          What Bill and Sam sadly have in common is the fact that we haven't had any really thought provoking comics since the

  • Not Bad (Score:5, Funny)

    by pilsner.urquell ( 734632 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:19AM (#30682638)
    Eight percent, I consider that a fair return on an investment.
    • Re:Not Bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:39AM (#30682980)
      Unless of course it's the 8% that makes you bald as you get older, or makes you susceptible to heart disease or diabetes, or any number of inherited undesirables. Remember, things like sickle cell anemia originated as a defense against malaria. In fact, in TFA it actually suggests an hypothesis:

      "These data yield a testable hypothesis for the alleged, but still controversial, causative association of BDV infection with schizophrenia and mood disorders," Feschotte said.

      where BDV here is the virus whose DNA they were searching for in the human genome. There you go, if you're depressed, manic or schizophrenic, it could be one of your ancestors got a brain virus.

  • Useful? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kolie ( 1012967 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:21AM (#30682660)
    Is any of that DNA in use or are those parts dormant? What effect do these modifications have on us beyond the initial use of replication and further propagation of viruses?
    • From TFA

      Feschotte said this virally transmitted DNA may be a cause of mutation and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and mood disorders. In his article, Feschotte speculates about the role of such viral insertions in causing mutations with evolutionary and medical consequences.

      The article doesn't go into much detail, but one type of virus that looked at specifically is a brain virus, definitely interesting implications for mental health research.

    • Re:Useful? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:29AM (#30682788) Journal

      Back with this story [] first came out I remember reading that DNA introduced by virus is thought to have given us the genes that allow the formation of placenta, which gave rise to mammals.

      All the articles from around that time seem to be locked away behind paywalls now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by linguizic ( 806996 )
        You must mean gave rise to placental mammals. Not all mammals have placentas (see marsupials and monotremes [which are way cool btw]).
    • Mammals (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:32AM (#30682858)

      Google for placenta and endogenous (as in endogenous virus). The placenta uses a lot of viral code, to the extent that it might be more virus than anything else. It also sheds a lot of viruses. The placenta is almost a different life form.

      BTW, the Wikipedia entry shows that the "8%" number was known as long as 6 years ago. []

      • Re:Mammals (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:25PM (#30683700) Journal

        ERVs have been known about for some time and are, in fact, one of the "killer" evidences for evolution. You can actually trace lineages with these genes, and they are useful for dating the splits between related lineages. For instance, chimps and humans share more ERVs than, say, humans and baboons. It's difficult to support that observation via Creationism, unless you proclaim the insipid "that's the way God wants it", but evolution explains it very neatly.

        • Re:Mammals (Score:5, Funny)

          by canajin56 ( 660655 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @02:11PM (#30685310)
          "That's the way God wanted it" isn't the only way to support the observation of genes existing in multiple species, in a way that seems to imply inheritance. How about "God made life using OO programming"? Why would he start from scratch for every species, instead of just using copy & paste? If you really think about it...hacked together in 6 days, spaghetti code where 80% seems to be junk that doesn't even do anything, and is incredibly hard to decipher...God made us in PERL! Perl supports multiple inheritance, which explains the appearance of "viruses" transplanting genes from one species to another, unrelated species!
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by pwfffff ( 1517213 )

            The fact that he finished ahead of schedule seems to support this. Why custom tailor DNA when you can use that whole 7th day to rest?

          • "That's the way God ... using copy & paste? If you really think about it...hacked together in 6 days, spaghetti code where 80% seems to be junk that doesn't even do anything, and is incredibly hard to decipher...

            So what the Creationists are saying is basically...

            God is a either a chump working at Microsoft, or a really bad software contractor who writes Perl?

            This sucks, I want a refund.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by j-beda ( 85386 )

            "...spaghetti code..."


        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Seakip18 ( 1106315 )

          I like to think that God was a smart enough creator and made sure there were plenty of chances for early life to get upgrades along the way. Not that God sprinkled magic viruses on chimps and viola, but rather that's how it worked out given a few hundred-million years of life.

          I never quite got how folks think the earth is only 3000 years old and that Dinosaurs never really existed, etc. I'd think it'd be alot easier to explain how creation and evolution fit than deny any evidence of evolution and dinosaurs.

    • Re:Useful? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:54PM (#30684160)
      Apparently a lot of the ERVs (that 8% of our DNA made from retrovirus pieces) get expressed during pregnancy by the fetus. One of the results is that the mother's immune system gets depressed (apparently a lot of HIV-like stuff going on there) that prevents the mother's immune system from killing the fetus. There's probably lots of other fun stuff going on that we don't know about yet. It's actually really cool when you think about it... mammalian childbirth being possible because some immunodepressent virus infected some reptile a long long time ago.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Well the term "dormant" doesn't mean what it used to mean since the human genome has been mapped. Before the mapping, it was thought that genes or "active" part of our DNA controlled every aspect of processes and the expectation was that humans would have at least 100,000 genes. There is "dormant" DNA in all organisms and it would represent a small part of our genome. That turned out not to be the case. Humans have about 23,000 genes which is fewer than found in corn and many of our genes are common wi
  • Like my PC (Score:5, Funny)

    by Krneki ( 1192201 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:21AM (#30682662)
    8% of my Windows code comes from Viruses.
  • Bible Code? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gotung ( 571984 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:21AM (#30682666)
    Isn't this "discovery" sort of like the Bible Code? So they searched the human genome and found a bunch of "virus like" patterns. Any sufficiently large set of information is going to give you some matches on just about anything you search for.
    • Re:Bible Code? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:28AM (#30682772)

      If you found a scroll in a cave that contained the book of John, would you say that it came from a different source than the book of John in the Bible? That's entirely different from rearranging letters until it says what you want it to say.

      • Re:Bible Code? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:45AM (#30683060) Homepage Journal

        If I found a really big scroll in a cave that contained billions and billions of apparently random letters -- but somewhere in the middle of all that was the text of the book of John (or "The Three Little Pigs" or whatever), I MIGHT suspect it came from a different source, yes.

        Infinite monkeys pounding on keyboards [] over an infinite span of time would create the combined works of William Shakespeare, and all that...

        Certainly not saying that's what happened here -- but the GPs question/point isn't entirely without merit.

    • Re:Bible Code? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:32AM (#30682836) Homepage Journal

      Not necessarily.
      A virus infects a human. It gets to infect the sperm or egg cell. Insignificant part of genetic code gets replaced.
      A child is born with -all- its cells containing the virus-originated code.

      Of course the replaced part will be several genes at most, but if the mutation is insignificant or positive, it will remain in all the offspring. Meanwhile this may repeat any number of times and will be perpetuated through ages.

      If a defect of lacking one whole chromosome is non-lethal (Down's syndrome), a minor damage to your genome has a really good chance of not affecting your offspring at all.

      • Re:Bible Code? (Score:5, Informative)

        by cmiller173 ( 641510 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:46AM (#30683066)
        Actually Down Syndrome (technically Trisomy 21) is having a whole extra copy of chromosome 21 not the lack of one.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Just a minor quibble- Down syndrome is caused by having an extra copy of chromosome 21 (trisomy), not a missing copy (monosomy). In humans, monosomy is fatal for the non-sex determining chromosomes (Turner syndrome is the result of monosomy X), and the only somatic trisomy conditions that are remotely survivable much past birth are those of 13, 19, and 21, and each of those has a set of profound symptoms such that they have an associated syndrome (Patau, Edwards, Down). This does nicely illustrate that is
    • Re:Bible Code? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 2short ( 466733 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:32AM (#30682844)
      "Any sufficiently large set of information is going to give you some matches on just about anything you search for."

      Yes, but not a sufficiently large rate of matches. If the researchers are competent, they can calculate what percent of the data would be expected to match their search even if the data is just random, and decide if the match rate exceeds that by a significant margin. The 'researchers' of the Bible Code were clearly not competent in exactly this way.

      As opposed to the paperback book market, Nature does not tend to print whatever comes across it's desk.
    • by sjs132 ( 631745 )

      But now if I hunt someone down and murder them and get diagnosed as a schizo, then I can blame it on the virus in my head that controlled me. Instant "Get-out-of-Jail-Free" card for 1000's of individuals... I wondered how Arnold was gonna cut costs on prisons and focus on Education.... Now it is starting to become clear.

      Viral Death: (c) 2010
      (Sing it like a thrash punk song!)

      Kill Kill Kill
      It's what I do best

      Kill Kill Kill
      It's a viral test

      Kill Kill Kill
      Now we got a viral fest

      I'll Breed inside your Head

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What matters here is statistically significant matches. Pretend for a second that DNA is C code. If you're reading a long stretch of code and suddenly run across a #define <virus.h>; void main(void) { int virus, x; ... and so forth, you know that you're looking at a chunk of code that's not supposed to be there and you know that everything between that { and the matching } is part of the stuff that's not supposed to be there -- and it might be several kilobytes of wrong DNA. In the case of genes, t
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SteveWoz ( 152247 )

      The Creator is actually an infinite number of monkeys?

  • by IronDragon ( 74186 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:23AM (#30682684) Homepage

    This is a fairly good little video that explains how RNA monomers end up naturally forming into longer polymer chains. Roughly 95% of our DNA is basically crap that only exists because at some point in the past, it was better at copying itself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:23AM (#30682688)

    These are endogenous virus fragments. Which means that a virus inserted itself into your ancestor's DNA. So you didn't get this new DNA after you were born, you inherited the 8% viral DNA from your ancestors.

  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:24AM (#30682698)

    Doesn't Norton protect me from such stuff?

  • Revelation (Score:5, Funny)

    by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:25AM (#30682706)

    I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here, Mr. Malda. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague and we are the cure.

  • They really need to stop using thier gene sequencers to search for porn.

  • Poor Summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:28AM (#30682768)
    The real news here doesn't appear to be that endogenization has occured through our past (OK, maybe the 8% number is news; I don't know about the numbers...) but instead that a virus, bornavirus, is displaying this property. This is news because bornaviruses are not retroviruses (previously the only know virus-types to produce endogenous copies.) Furthermore, the article seems to suspect that this virus may have ties to the schizophrenia and mood disorders...
  • Which one? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davidwr ( 791652 )

    Oh wait, the article says "the genomes of humans and other mammals contain DNA derived from the insertion of bornaviruses" plural. My bad.

  • So 8% of my DNA comes from a virus and not from my ancestors? I guess that means that I was infected with the DNA after conception and for some reason it's not heritable since I didn't get any from my ancestors. The big story, then, is that there is a mechanism that excludes the viral DNA during meiosis.

    Dr Feschotte must have cringed when he read the release.

  • I woke up this morning wondering how much of our DNA was influenced by viruses.

    Turns out it's 8%.

    Thanks, slashdot! :D

  • That explains a lot actually.

  • BornAVirus - EndOVirus.

  • I'm quite sure that that 8% was merely introduced into our genetic code by an Intelligent Designer, just to throw scientists off the trail a bit.

  • Considering the necessity of viruses to have some "host-like" code within them, is it not just as possible that viruses got most of their code from hosts rather than vice versa?

  • by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:41AM (#30683004) Homepage Journal []

    That section is mostly commissioned and if not submissions reviewed by editor (technically, not peer reviewed).

    The author of the referred N&V article is the author one of the articles in the reference section...

    For peer-reviewed article, I would go for: []

    written by bunch of Japanese:

    Endogenous non-retroviral RNA virus elements in mammalian genomes

    Retroviruses are the only group of viruses known to have left a fossil record, in the form of endogenous proviruses, and approximately 8% of the human genome is made up of these elements1, 2. Although many other viruses, including non-retroviral RNA viruses, are known to generate DNA forms of their own genomes during replication3, 4, 5, none has been found as DNA in the germline of animals. Bornaviruses, a genus of non-segmented, negative-sense RNA virus, are unique among RNA viruses in that they establish persistent infection in the cell nucleus6, 7, 8. Here we show that elements homologous to the nucleoprotein (N) gene of bornavirus exist in the genomes of several mammalian species, including humans, non-human primates, rodents and elephants. These sequences have been designated endogenous Borna-like N (EBLN) elements. Some of the primate EBLNs contain an intact open reading frame (ORF) and are expressed as mRNA. Phylogenetic analyses showed that EBLNs seem to have been generated by different insertional events in each specific animal family. Furthermore, the EBLN of a ground squirrel was formed by a recent integration event, whereas those in primates must have been formed more than 40 million years ago. We also show that the N mRNA of a current mammalian bornavirus, Borna disease virus (BDV), can form EBLN-like elements in the genomes of persistently infected cultured cells. Our results provide the first evidence for endogenization of non-retroviral virus-derived elements in mammalian genomes and give novel insights not only into generation of endogenous elements, but also into a role of bornavirus as a source of genetic novelty in its host.

  • Damn it. (Score:4, Funny)

    by UncHellMatt ( 790153 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:44AM (#30683046)
    She told me she was TESTED!
  • by d34dluk3 ( 1659991 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:30PM (#30683762)
    It's the Y Chromosome
  • Misleading title (Score:3, Informative)

    by BurningRome ( 457767 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @12:33PM (#30683806)

    The "8% of your genome" comes from the first paragraph of the News and Views article which reviews the actual article by Horie et al, and is referring to ALL viral remnants in the human genome, not just this new Bornavirus one. From a quick scan of the paper, it looks like they didn't estimate what fraction of the human genome comes from their Bornavirus, but they only describe 4 actual elements - so that's a vanishingly small part of the human genome. The vast majority of viral elements in the genome come from retroviruses and other retrotransposons, and that's been known for a long time.

  • 8 Percent! (Score:4, Funny)

    by bitphr3ak ( 1715732 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @02:34PM (#30685608)
    I think I'll call in sick!

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer