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Evolution of viruses and antiviral defense

Contemporary viruses can be organized in an evolutionary tree ranging from the RNA world to the DNA world, from ribozymes, via viroids, DNA-ribozymes, Influenza, retro-and para-retroviruses to DNA viruses - supporting a „virus-first“ hypothesis. Retroviruses have shaped or may have even built the human genome, where up to 50% are retrovirus-related sequences to which increasing and decreasing complexities contributed. Rudimentary reverse transcription from RNA to DNA is still ongoing today in telomeres during embryogenesis and cancer [1]. Sequence analysis of the human genome witnesses our past, indicating how long HIV-like viruses, reverse transcriptase and RNases H have been around. Endogenization of retroviruses is actively ongoing in animal models and may allow a prediction on the future of HIV in people. Evolution of HIV takes place during antiretroviral therapies. An HIV suicide approach circumvents mutagenesis and escape mutants [2, 3]. Co-evolution or crossing arms, also known from phage and bacteria, can be deduced from structural and functional similarities of retroviral replication and the siRNA-mediated antiviral defense machineries [4]. An evolutionary relationship between siRNA and interferon can be constructed by comparing their pathways. SiRNA involving dicer as well as inter-feron are active antiviral defense mechanisms in mammalian cells, tested by dicer and interferon knockdown analyses [5, 6]. The systems differ in strength and sequence specificities.


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Correspondence to Karin Moelling.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Moelling, K. Evolution of viruses and antiviral defense. Retrovirology 6, P59 (2009).

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  • Influenza
  • Interferon
  • Reverse Transcription
  • Mammalian Cell
  • Human Genome