PLoS blogs and viral archaeology

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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Expand your horizons! Read new science blogs! One of the first topics is a new paper on viral archaeology—what’s that?!

On 1 September 2010, PLoS debuted PLoS Blogs, which they describe as “a new network for discussing science in public; covering topics in research, culture, and publishing.” PLoS Blogs are different, they say, “because it includes an equal mix of science journalists and scientists.”

On the day the blogs debuted, Liz Allen notes that a study published in one of the PLoS journals, PLoS Pathogens, discusses viral archaeology—looking back at the evolution of viruses, which can tell us something about our human past. Ms. Allen summarizes the study, which compared:

over 5,000 genes from all known non-retroviral families with single-stranded RNA genomes against the genomes of 48 vertebrate species, uncovering 80 separate viral sequence integrations into 19 different vertebrate species. From this, they were able to identify strong connections in two virus groups—Bornaviruses (found in humans, cows, and lemurs, amongst others) and filoviruses (in guinea pigs, bats, opossums, amogst others)—the latter of which includes Ebola and Marburg viruses.

While it’s still not known how genetic material from RNA viruses (which do not use DNA to replicate) could have entered host DNA, this extensive study presents a significant leap in our understanding of the relationship between the human genome and the traces of viral material which we still carry in our DNA.

The Public Library of Science, abbreviated PLoS, “is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource,” as they note on their website. PLoS publishes several journals on scientific topics, all with free content. Now PLoS has added equally serious material presented in the less formal format of blogs on their website. PLoS ONE is “a peer-reviewed scientific journal for the swift publication of original research in all areas of science and medicine, with innovative user tools for post-publication commenting, rating, and discussion.” Other journals have address more specific topics like biology and medicine.

The viral archaeology article is titled, “Unexpected inheritance: Multiple integrations of ancient Bornavirus and Ebolavirus/Marburgvirus sequences in vertebrate genomes.” The authors are Vladimir A. Belyi, Arnold J. Levine, Anna Marie Skalka; the article is published in PLoS Pathogens and is published in the July 2010 issue.