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Q Rev Biol. 1989 Mar;64(1):1-30.

Origins and evolutionary relationships of retroviruses.

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Center for Molecular Genetics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093.


As is the case for some other RNA viruses, the amino acid sequences of retroviral proteins change at an astonishing rate. For example, the proteases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the visna lentivirus with which it is often compared are as different as the proteases of fungi and mammals, and those of the human type I leukemia virus are as different from HIV or visna as are the proteins of humans and bacteria. That the sequences of retrovirus proteins can be recognized as sharing common ancestry with non-retroviral proteins implies that the vastly accelerated change has begun only recently or occurs very sporadically. Only a scheme whereby exogenous retroviruses exist as short-lived bursts upon a backdrop of germline-encoded endogenous viruses is consistent with the sequence data. Retroviruses are related to many other reverse transcriptase-bearing entities present in the genomes of eukaryotes. They also have proteins that are homologous with those of some plant and animal DNA viruses, and their reverse transcriptase is recognizably similar to sequences found in the introns of some fungal mitochondria. Computer alignment of all these sequences allows an overall phylogeny to be constructed that chronicles the history of events leading to infectious retroviruses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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