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Trends Genet. 1997 Mar;13(3):116-20.

Our retroviral heritage.

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  • 1Chester Beatty Laboratories, Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK.


Darwin could not have foretold that we are descended from viruses as well as from apes. While there is clear evidence that viral diseases, such as polio and rabies, affected ancient civilizations, viruses were not defined until the early years of this century, shortly after the rediscovery of mendelian genetics. That retroviral genomes can oscillate between infectious and genetic modes of transmission seemed preposterous before the discovery of reverse transcription in 1970. Those of us who had earlier provided mendelian evidence for germ-line transmission of retroviruses were subject of friendly ridicule. Today, the shunting of genetic elements between chromosomes and RNA, and the generation of processed pseudogenes, seems commonplace. It is timely, however, to revisit the topic of human endogenous retroviruses-the subject of this article.

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