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Can viruses horizontally transfer genes co-packaged from one host to another?

It has long been known that viruses, in addition to their own genomes, encapsidate extraneous nucleic acids. Although this phenomenon has been verified in the prokaryotic world, in eukaryotes, the significance of these alternative nucleic acids could just be trivial, or, quite possibly evolution caught in the act. This group decided to apply next-generation sequencing in order to identify all of the nucleic acids packaged in two positive sense ssRNA insect viruses: flock house virus (FHV) from the Nodavirus family and the Nudaurelia capensis omega virus (NV), from the Tetraviridae family. Each of these viruses has a bipartite genome where two virions are needed to encapsidate both components of their genome. They found evidence that these viruses encapsidate alternative genes encoding reverse transcriptases, endonucleases, integrases, and transposase proteins. Although looking at virus-like particles they saw that most of the nucleic acid packaged was host derived, when they analyzed authentic virions this percentage dropped to 1% and below. This group did not digest RNA prior to sequencing leaving the possibility that these RNAs were simply co-purified. However, they did digest RNA with RNase prior to performing an RT-PCR targeting some of the same genes, which further solidifies that at least some of these RNAs were co-packaged. Nonetheless, even if these RNAs represent a small percentage the possibility that these transposons and reverse transcriptases can be shuttled from one host to another is highly intriguing. The authors note a finding in 2000 where a retrotranspon picked up a baculovirus envelope protein thus making the jump from a intracellular mobile genetic element to that of an intercellular and possibly interhost mobile genetic element. How could this impact their insect hosts? How could these ORFs impact virus evolution? The future of virology will be packaged with various surprises!

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