January 07, 2010

Matrix Movie Agent Smith Was 8% Right that Humans Are a Virus

Matrix movie quote:
Agent Smith: I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. 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're a plague and we are the cure.

Popular Science reports as much as eight percent of the human genome consists of viruses that inserted themselves into our DNA for replication, including the gene that causes schizophrenia.

Science Daily also has coverage

Human DNA has DNA from retroviruses and Bornavirus.

Wired Reports on the Bornavirus

Bornaviruses, a type of RNA virus that causes disease in horses and sheep, can insert their genetic material into human DNA and first did so at least 40 million years ago, the study shows. The findings, published January 7 in Nature, provide the first evidence that RNA viruses other than retroviruses (such as HIV) can stably integrate genes into host DNA. The new work may help reveal more about the evolution of RNA viruses as well as their mammalian hosts.

In the new study, Japanese researchers found copies of the bornavirus N (for nucleoprotein) gene inserted in at least four separate locations in the human genome. Searches of other mammalian genomes also showed that the gene has hitched rides in a wide variety of species for millions of years.








Nature - 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 elements. Although many other viruses, including non-retroviral RNA viruses, are known to generate DNA forms of their own genomes during replication 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 nucleus. 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.


15 page pdf with supplemental information

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