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Songbird Fossil Virus May Help Predict Pandemics

samzenpus posted about 4 years ago | from the oldest-medicine dept.

Science 42

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers announced they found a fossil virus hiding in the most unexpected place: the chromosomes of several songbird species. This ancient virus resembles human hepatitis B virus. Finding this ancient virus will catalyze new lines of inquiry that may help scientists predict and prevent future human viral pandemics that originate in birds."

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first post! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743342)

Did I win?

Re:first post! (1, Funny)

ClimberPunk (241268) | about 4 years ago | (#33743356)

Congratulations on your FP. Now come collect your prize, bird flu.

Re:first post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743502)

wait I thought we were talking about hepatitis B [wikimedia.org]

or its 19 million year old predecessors?

TFA doesn't really explain "prevent human viral pandemics that originate in birds"

Re:first post! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743998)

Either way, if you fuck a bird you should wear a condom.

Re:first post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33744738)

What if you're just choking the chicken?

Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (2, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 4 years ago | (#33743380)

If this is true, then birds themselves may not only be carriers of diseases like influenzae, but actually be actively developing the viruses in their own DNA. That would make sense as birds are typically the first species to be attacked by such viruses. The endoviruses embedded in their DNA may be involved in new virus creation.

That's pretty cool! And scary...

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 4 years ago | (#33743426)

The endoviruses embedded in their DNA may be involved in new virus creation.

How?

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 4 years ago | (#33743462)

In the same way that DNA is responsible for the production of cells in the body.

You might as well ask how a program can manage an assembly line of computer parts. Come on Bruce. You're not that dumb.

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 4 years ago | (#33743760)

No, you have it backwards. Yet another bad analogy... These viral sequences have been embedded in the bird DNA by mechanisms carried by the viruses. That's why they were first found in retroviruses (that do this sort of thing for a living). The bird DNA isn't 'making' the virus. In fact, the viruses are not coding for proteins due to numerous mutations that hit that part of the genome over time. Since the DNA is silent, the mutations don't affect anything and there is no selection for an active virus (or active anything).

While it's theoretically possible that more mutations could recreate functional proteins, the odds of that would be astoundingly low. You could also envision some sort of chromosomal rearrangement that would re create something biologically active, but again that is very, very unlikely. It is a bit more likely (although there is no current evidence of this) that small bits of viral DNA would code for some controlling RNA or small protein that would interact with bird DNA in some way. The state of the art isn't able to tease things apart at this level. But the bird genome isn't 'creating' a virus. This would be like asking a word processing program written for CP/M then transferred by paper tape to a TRS 80, then transferred by modem a computer running OS X to start decoding video streams. Not going to happen.

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (1)

lanswitch (705539) | about 4 years ago | (#33744380)

[i]This would be like asking a word processing program written for CP/M then transferred by paper tape to a TRS 80, then transferred by modem a computer running OS X to start decoding video streams. [/i][br]
You are talking about Emacs, right?

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (2, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | about 4 years ago | (#33745272)

The bird DNA isn't 'making' the virus. In fact, the viruses are not coding for proteins due to numerous mutations that hit that part of the genome over time. Since the DNA is silent, the mutations don't affect anything and there is no selection for an active virus (or active anything).

Apparently some viruses can insert themselves into the germline/genome and reactivate later:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100308151055.htm [sciencedaily.com]

The team presented clear evidence that the virus can insert its DNA specifically into telomeres -- structures at the ends of each chromosome that play key roles in both aging and cancer.

Finally, the team showed that the chromosomally integrated HHV-6 (CIHHV-6) genomes can be reactivated to an infectious form.

More details here:
http://schaechter.asmblog.org/schaechter/2010/08/when-the-end-is-the-story.html [asmblog.org]

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (2, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 4 years ago | (#33747936)

Nice pickup, I said unlikely, but not impossible. The big difference here is that these viruses are inserting themselves in toto in the target genome remaining active to some degree or another. The 'ancient' viruses may well have started out like that but some millions of years ago they shut down, quit being selected for, but the sequences where never 'cleaned out'.

This has been speculated to be an important role for new gene products but likely happens rather rarely in complex multi cellular organisms. Like on the order of millions of years between successful occurrences. It certainly doesn't happen the way BadAnalogyGuy postulated to happen (and dissed Bruce Perens for no particularly good reason).

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743588)

How?

Hoo?

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (1)

zeropointburn (975618) | about 4 years ago | (#33743674)

One would presume that in the process of replicating itself, an invading virus may inadvertently repackage some of the host's dna. If it happened upon a functional viral gene in the midst of a string of intron, it is possible that the gene could be merged with the viral dna of the invader. The result would be a new strain of the invading virus carrying a gene (or many genes) from an extinct virus. This could lead to any number of problems for us, such as an altered protein coat (makes most vaccines useless), increased likelihood of transmission, or the ability to produce toxins (cause to be produced, in the case of a virus) to which our bodies no longer have any resistance. If the right kind of virus and the right kind of bacteria were present in the host at the same time, it is also possible for these genes to cross into other pathogens.

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743430)

how could the viruses embedded in in their DNA be involved in virus creation?

The article claims

        "These fossil viruses are not capable of causing disease in birds, nor infecting humans.

                "The viruses that we found are very old, are integrated in the bird genome, and do not have the potential to encode any functional protein product," said Dr Gilbert. "So they do not have any effect in songbirds."

"

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (2, Informative)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 4 years ago | (#33743478)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noncoding_DNA [wikipedia.org]

Look into it.

looking at that link (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743828)

and also https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Pseudogene [wikimedia.org] ,
It is not all that clear to me that these viral DNA fragments are in fact capable of being "involved in virus creation".

Or more specifically, I have yet to see any specific evidence that they are in fact "involved in virus creation".

To be fair you seem to be advocating for the possibility, rather than the actuality.

Also I need to point out I am not a professional molecular biologist (I'm sure there is one around here somewhere), but to me the links did not seem to argue conclusively one way or the other.

The section on functional pseudogenes seems to indicate that there is still some active debate on the subject.

Many of the source articles seem to be locked behind paywalls, but a few are accessible.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1456316/?tool=pmcentrez [nih.gov]

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1567693/?tool=pmcentrez [nih.gov]

http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/5/654.abstract [oxfordjournals.org]

Re:Birds themselves could be creating new viruses (2, Informative)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | about 4 years ago | (#33744372)

That would make sense as birds are typically the first species to be attacked by such viruses.

Where did you get that from? Yes, there's the Avian Influenza, but from there to go on and say that birds are typically the source of such viruses? Most human Influenza viruses are from a human-origin. From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] :

"All influenza A pandemics since [the Spanish flu pandemic], and indeed almost all cases of influenza A worldwide (excepting human infections from avian viruses such as H5N1 and H7N7), have been caused by descendants of the 1918 virus, including "drifted" H1N1 viruses and reassorted H2N2 and H3N2 viruses. The latter are composed of key genes from the 1918 virus, updated by subsequently incorporated avian influenza genes that code for novel surface proteins, making the 1918 virus indeed the "mother" of all pandemics"

Further searching did not reveal the the origin of the 1918 virus was birds.

And talking about "such viruses", the article was talking about the Hepatitis Virus B (HBV). I don't know of any evidence that the virus came from birds, So please clarify the meaning of your original statement.

Just like cyclical development (3, Funny)

eqreed (1108821) | about 4 years ago | (#33743432)

Quote: "But when deactivated fragments of these viral freeloaders reside in a host's genome for millions of years"

Don't you hate it when no one cleans up the unused code?

Re:Just like cyclical development (3, Funny)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 4 years ago | (#33743492)

Nonononono! Don't delete that line! That could be a load-bearing comment!

;)

Re:Just like cyclical development (1)

ledow (319597) | about 4 years ago | (#33745406)

And not an ounce of documentation either.

Ugh, boring. (1, Funny)

furgle (1825812) | about 4 years ago | (#33743480)

Way to not invent a hover-board again science.

Re:Ugh, boring. (4, Funny)

Tangentc (1637287) | about 4 years ago | (#33743526)

Way to not invent a hover-board again science.

I love that this comment implies that the /. user base would not only like scientific research to favor the production of trivial amusement devices rather than preventing massive death tolls from illnesses, but would prefer that those amusement devices be almost suicidal to use.

Re:Ugh, boring. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743686)

Suicidal? Marty was able to figure it out in seconds.

Re:Ugh, boring. (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 4 years ago | (#33744056)

Yeah, but everyone else who tried to use one ended up in a pile of.....something. Shit, now I can't remember what it was.....

Re:Ugh, boring. (1)

furgle (1825812) | about 4 years ago | (#33743876)

What makes you think a hover-board would not save the human race from avian diseases?

Songbird? (0, Offtopic)

a_hanso (1891616) | about 4 years ago | (#33743562)

Does anybody use that [getsongbird.com] anymore? Let me know when iTunes is infected

Reading comprehension 101 (3, Interesting)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 4 years ago | (#33743646)

TFArticle doesn't say that anyone was surprised to find the fossil in the chromosome. The surprise is that it's > 19 million years old.

(Creationist bashers can take delight in the fact the these viruses were previously thought to be only 6000 years old.)

Re:Reading comprehension 101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743808)

Maybe you can read the article and then in a reasonable and clear manner explain to me why this isn't a 'rabbit in the Precambrian'

Embedded virus ? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 4 years ago | (#33743654)

If a virus embed itself in the chromosomes of its host I am afraid it is no longer considered as a "virus".

Re:Embedded virus ? (3, Informative)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#33743710)

If a virus embed itself in the chromosomes of its host I am afraid it is no longer considered as a "virus".

You should rethink your position. The trick can be used to hide from the immune system and generate viruses of the sort you're familiar with at a future time.

Re:Embedded virus ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33744172)

If a virus embed itself in the chromosomes of its host I am afraid it is no longer considered as a "virus".

You should rethink your position. The trick can be used to hide from the immune system and generate viruses of the sort you're familiar with at a future time.

Do you know about this stuff or are you just guessing? I am not an expert but i never heard virus did that. I thought it was quite common for viruses to "contaminate" their hosts DNA. A friend of mine who studies bio technology explained that to me, he told me is natural part of evolution. But i never though that a fossil virus could attack his hosts after generations to create future spawn of the virus

Re:Embedded virus ? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33744534)

some virii have a strategy to insert their genetic material into the host, where it will remain dormant, until some event triggers the conversion of the dormant virus into the active form.
see https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Lysogenic_cycle [wikimedia.org]

sometimes virii that employ this strategy will be rendered inactive by dna methylation. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/DNA_methylation [wikimedia.org]

random mutation can then distort these DNA sequences in a way which is unlikely to be reversible, creating a "fossil virus"

Re:Embedded virus ? (2, Informative)

telomerewhythere (1493937) | about 4 years ago | (#33743750)

What's interesting to me is (1) This type of virus doesn't normally put its code into host dna. and (2)The Hep(b) fossil in the songbirds genome and the Hep(b) virus infecting humans now are almost identical... Things to ponder.

As to 'viruses' in host dna, it's called "fossil virus", kind of like an animal fossilized in limestone etc. Not an animal, but we can learn from them.

Hardly "the most unexpected place" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743846)

Finding old virus DNA in the chromosomes of an organism is about the most *expected* place to find such a thing.

G.

tuBgiMrl (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33743922)

His clash with this mistake or anything can Myself. This isn't

Re:tuBgiMrl (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33744812)

Fail you forgot the link, now fuck off and troll digg or fark.

DNA under selection rarely does nothing (4, Interesting)

SpeleoNut (610127) | about 4 years ago | (#33744314)

I found these two statements in the article to be somewhat at odds with each other.
1. "The viruses that we found are very old, are integrated in the bird genome, and do not have the potential to encode any functional protein product," said Dr Gilbert. "So they do not have any effect in songbirds."
2. "a strikingly slow, long-term mutation rate that is 1,000 times slower than the viral [mutation] rates that had previously been estimated based on comparisons of currently circulating viral sequences only."
If the sequences are being in someway preserved they may well be having an effect. Perhaps not coding a protein themselves but altering the levels, timing or tissue specificity of gene expression in their vicinity. Also the presence of these similar sequences throughout the songbird genome can drive novel DNA recombination events which can result in new phenotypes, driving songbird evolution.

Oblig. monty python (0, Offtopic)

complete loony (663508) | about 4 years ago | (#33744582)

And that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped.
Explain again how sheeps' bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.

Er, what pandemic? (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 4 years ago | (#33745534)

"Finding this ancient virus will... help scientists predict and prevent future human viral pandemics that originate in birds"

You mean like that catastrophic pandemic last year that ended up killing what, 14 people?

Weeks, even months of warnings that the sky was falling, thousands of businesses implementing catastrophe plans, TV and radio giving us 'pandemic alerts' warning repeatedly that we were on the verge of epidemics where it was conceivable that deaths would be in the "hundreds of thousands" in the US alone....sure, I'm guessing that we don't need more help detecting pandemics, it's that we need a little more judiciousness in pressing the panic button when we do detect a potential threat.

Re:Er, what pandemic? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 4 years ago | (#33748692)

Having such great success with the Y2K predictions, they thought that their pandemic predictions would boost their rising peristeronic ratings.

IP via avians (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33746552)

this is another good reason to avoid data transmission via birds (eg IP via pigeon) in that the carriers themselves could be infected by a virus and then it spreads via the packets carried...

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