My primary research interests are on endogenous retroviruses (or ERVs).
But what are ERVs?
Let’s go back: What is a virus?
Viruses are very small entities that are only able to generate other viruses by being inside a living cell of any other living organism, such as animals, plants and bacteria. They are of many different types and sizes and if you want to know more about viruses you can have a look here.
As other animals, viruses also have a genetic material, but in their case it can either be DNA or RNA. This genetic material is responsible to carry on information for virus replication once inside a living cell.
Retroviruses are viruses that have RNA as their genetic material, instead of the more conventional DNA. The interesting part of retroviruses is that they can convert their RNA into DNA. This DNA is then integrated into the organism’s DNA they are infecting. Once the retroviruses DNA is integrated, they are called proviruses (just because we humans like to give names to everything).
So let’s go back to the question: What are ERVs?
ERVs are retroviruses that at a point in the past infected a host animal cell and by an unknown reason these retroviruses end up infecting sperm and egg cells. After, the host started to pass these viruses to their offspring. They can be considered viral “fossils” and even us humans have these viruses in our DNA.
I am currently working on the evolution of these viruses, and this will be the topic of my next post!