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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 12;8(4):e60605. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060605. Print 2013.

Human-specific HERV-K insertion causes genomic variations in the human genome.

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  • 1Department of Nanobiomedical Science and WCU Research Center, Dankook University, Cheonan, Republic of Korea.


Human endogenous retroviruses (HERV) sequences account for about 8% of the human genome. Through comparative genomics and literature mining, we identified a total of 29 human-specific HERV-K insertions. We characterized them focusing on their structure and flanking sequence. The results showed that four of the human-specific HERV-K insertions deleted human genomic sequences via non-classical insertion mechanisms. Interestingly, two of the human-specific HERV-K insertion loci contained two HERV-K internals and three LTR elements, a pattern which could be explained by LTR-LTR ectopic recombination or template switching. In addition, we conducted a polymorphic test and observed that twelve out of the 29 elements are polymorphic in the human population. In conclusion, human-specific HERV-K elements have inserted into human genome since the divergence of human and chimpanzee, causing human genomic changes. Thus, we believe that human-specific HERV-K activity has contributed to the genomic divergence between humans and chimpanzees, as well as within the human population.

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