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Retrovirus diversity expanded

Researchers from Nanjing Normal University have made an important breakthrough on the evolution and diversity of retroviruses. The article, entitled “A sister lineage of sampled retroviruses corroborates the complex evolution of retroviruses”, was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution with graduate student Jianhua Wang as the first author.

Retroviruses cause a variety of diseases, including AIDS and cancers, and pose great threats to the global public health. The diversity of retroviruses has been thought to be largely understood. However, Wang et al. discovered a novel major lineage of retroviruses, termed as lokiretroviruses. Lokiretroviruses infect a wide range of vertebrates, including lampreys, ray-finned fishes, lobe-finned fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. Lokiretroviruses display some unique features; for example, lokiretrovirus Env proteins share detectable similarity with fusion glycoproteins of some negative sense single-stranded RNA viruses, blurring the boundary of these two types of viruses. Moreover, Wang et al. find that lokiretroviruses are sister to all the retroviruses sampled to date, providing a crucial nexus for studying the deep history of retroviruses. Overall, this finding greatly expands our understanding of the diversity of retroviruses, and provides novel insights into the origin and complex evolutionary history of retroviruses.

Support for the project was provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Province.