Patric Jern research group

Retrovirus-Host Evolution

The overall aim is to better understand the evolutionary interactions between retroviruses and their host species. Retroviruses, such as HIV in humans, must become part of the host cell’s genome to produce new viruses. When a germline cell is infected there is a chance for the retrovirus to be passed on to the host’s offspring as an inherited endogenous retrovirus (ERV). Consequently, retroviruses have colonized host genomes for millions of years, leaving traces as ERVs in their genetic make-up, and thereby providing a unique resource for understanding the biology and evolution of virus-host relationships. We principally employ bioinformatics to study retrovirus-host relationships in two main lines of research:

(i)How did our ancestors deal with their pathogens?

We perform comparative studies across the genomes of diverse organisms to construct evolutionary hypotheses of relationship and explore retrovirus features, dynamics and transmission for insights into evolutionary retrovirus-host interactions.

(ii)What are the evolutionary effects of retrovirus integrations on host biology?

We characterize ERVs and other transposable genetic sequences across diverse host genomes in order to elucidate the contributions that they have had on host genomic variation and innovation, and to evaluate their contributions to host biology and phenotypic evolution.

Example of relationships among retroviruses, ERVs and their host species. Three species are shown together with various types of retrovirus transmissions. Transmission of infectious retroviruses (XRV, blue) is followed by spread and selection (red X), and continued spread of adapted viruses (XRV, yellow). A retrovirus infecting a germline cell may become fixed in the population and spread through generations. Although the retrovirus may become extinct, even after speciation events it can still be detected in descendant species as an ERV (yellow bars). Modified from Jern P., and Coffin J.M. (2008) Annual Review of Genetics.

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