Reviving old viruses buried in the genome

less than 1 minute read

This story caught my attention:

In a controversial study, researchers have resurrected a retrovirus that infected our ancestors millions of years ago and now sits frozen in the human genome. Published online by Genome Research this week, the study may shed new light on the history of these genomic intruders, as well as their role in tumors. Although this particular virus, dubbed Phoenix, is a wimpy one, some argue that resuscitating any ancient virus is inherently risky and that the study should have undergone stricter reviews.

Basically, they took a consensus sequence of one family of human endogenous retroviruses, which have implanted their own genomes within ours over millions of years, and used the sequence to build a real virus. And it worked, creating a weakly infectious agent.

Lots of people think this is a bad idea. After all, resurrecting ancient viruses is like a box of chocolates: you never know when they'll escape from the petri dish and start eating your flesh off.

Personally, if it wasn't such a bad idea, I have to wonder why they gave the virus such an obviously military-sounding name! I mean, "Phoenix"?<?i>