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23 Jul 2019

Are the ‘viral’ agents of MS, ALS and schizophrenia buried in our genome?

An estimated 8% of our DNA comes from viruses. Image: Shutterstock. Viruses hid themselves in your ancestors’ DNA. Now they’re waking up. — by Matthew Prior, Frontiers science writer What if the missing ‘environmental’ factor in some of our deadliest neurological diseases were really written in our genome? Writing in Frontiers in Genetics, researchers from the University of Düsseldorf explain how viruses ended up in our DNA – and what puts them in the frame in unsolved diseases like multiple sclerosis. Neural Cell Responses Upon Exposure to Human Endogenous Retroviruses► Read original article► Download original article (pdf) The enemy within? A whopping 8% of our DNA comes from viruses. Specifically, ones called retroviruses – not because they’re old, but because they reverse the normal process of reading DNA to write themselves into their host’s genome. Retroviruses are old though: they began merging with our ancestors millions of years ago. Over the millennia, most of their remnants in our DNA – known as human endogenous retroviruses or HERVs – have been silenced by mutations. Others, which had evolved to fend off rival viruses, formed the prototypical immune system and to this day protect us from infection. However, HERVs might also be the missing […]