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Viruses helped shape human genetic variability

Date:
February 19, 2010
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
Viruses have played a role in shaping human genetic variability, according to a new study. The researchers used population genetics approaches to identify gene variants that augment susceptibility to viral infections or protect from such infections.
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New research shows that viruses have played a role in shaping human genetic variability.
Credit: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki

Viruses have played a role in shaping human genetic variability, according to a study published February 19 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics. The researchers, from the Don C. Gnocchi and Eugenio Medea Scientific Institutes, the University of Milan and the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, used population genetics approaches to identify gene variants that augment susceptibility to viral infections or protect from such infections.

Viruses have represented a threat to human populations throughout history and still account for a large proportion of disease and death worldwide. The identification of gene variants that modulate the susceptibility to viral infections is thus central to the development of novel therapeutic approaches and vaccines. Due to the long relationship between humans and viruses, gene variants conferring increased resistance to these pathogens have likely been targeted by natural selection. This concept was exploited to identify variants in the human genome that modulate susceptibility to infection or the severity of the ensuing disease.

In particular, the authors based their study on the idea that populations living in different geographic areas have been exposed to different viral loads and therefore have been subjected to a variable virus-driven selective pressure. By analysing genetic data for 52 populations distributed worldwide, the authors identified variants that display higher frequency where the viral load is also high. Using this approach, they found 139 human genes that modulate susceptibility to viral infections; the protein products of several of these genes interact with one another and often with viral components.

The study relied on predictions generated in computer simulations; therefore, experimental validation of these results will be required. The authors conclude that approaches similar to the one they applied might be used to identify susceptibility variants for infections transmitted by pathogens other than viruses.


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The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fumagalli M, Pozzoli U, Cagliani R, Comi GP, Bresolin N, et al. Genome-Wide Identification of Susceptibility Alleles for Viral Infections through a Population Genetics Approach. PLoS Genetics, 2010; 6 (2): e1000849 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000849

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Public Library of Science. "Viruses helped shape human genetic variability." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100218203053.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2010, February 19). Viruses helped shape human genetic variability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 25, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100218203053.htm
Public Library of Science. "Viruses helped shape human genetic variability." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100218203053.htm (accessed May 25, 2015).

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