How Genetically “Human” Are Any of Us?

Research finds 19 new non-human DNA fragments in human genomes, as well as a fully intact ancient virus.

[DIGEST: IFLS, Tufts Now, Sci News, The Science Explorer, Ars Technica]

How human are you? New research shows that more than 8% of our genetic makeup isn’t our own: it comes from viruses. Some of that viral DNA may have been passed down from our ancestors for at least 670,000 years.

And in 50 of the 2500 people examined, this includes a full genetic recipe for an entire virus.

“This is a thrilling discovery,” says study lead author Dr. Julia Wildschutte of the University of Michigan Medical School. “It will open up many doors to research.”

DNA
Dr. Julia Wildschutte. (CREDIT: Source)

The study, by a team working at Tufts University and the University of Michigan Medical School, looked at the entire span of DNA from people around the world. They compared key areas of each person’s genome to a digitized genetic sequence assembled by scientists to act as a representative sample of our species’ DNA.

What they found were 19 new human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). These new HERVs are part of the endogenous retrovirus family HERV-K. The study also confirmed 17 HERVs that had been previously identified.

HERVs are DNA versions of RNA-based viruses that permanently lodge their code into human DNA. Most retroviruses become fragmented and mutate as they pass down through

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