Fossil-virus-bird

Fossil-virus-bird

Viruses can be thought of as hyperspeed shape-shifters, organisms that can adapt quickly to overcome barriers to infection. But recent research has been finding ancient traces of many viruses in animal genomes, DNA insertions that have likely been there for much longer than the viruses were previously thought to have existed at all.

A new study describes evidence of a hepadnavirus (a virus group that includes hepatitis B, which infects humans as well as other mammals and ducks) hiding in the genomes of modern songbirds. By tracing back to these bird species’ common ancestors, the researchers behind the new work estimate that this family of viruses has been around for at least 19 million years—and possibly as long as 40 million years—rather than the several thousand years researchers had estimated.

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