When a virus enters a host cell, it uses the cell’s transcription and translation machinery to produce the proteins necessary to create more viruses. A new paper describes a previously unknown mechanism that can occur during this process wherein the virus steals genetic signals from their hosts to expand their own genomes.
This finding is presented in a study titled, “ Hybrid Gene Origination Creates Human-Virus Chimeric Proteins during Infection, ” published in Cell .
The cross-disciplinary collaborative study was led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research in the U.K.
The team of virologists worked with segmented negative-strand RNA viruses, which include viruses such as the influenza viruses and Lassa virus (the cause of Lassa fever). Graphical abstract for Sook Yuin Ho et al. The life cycles of these RNA viruses, the authors wrote, “depends on host mRNA, because viral polymerases cleave 5′-m7G-capped host transcripts to prime viral mRNA synthesis (“cap-snatching”).” The researchers hypothesized that start codons within cap-snatched host transcripts “could generate chimeric human-viral mRNAs with coding potential.”
Their findings suggest that viruses can produce previously undetected proteins by stealing genetic signals from their hosts. The researchers labeled them as UFO (Upstream Frankenstein Open reading frame) proteins, as they are encoded by stitching together the host and viral sequences. These UFO proteins can alter the course of viral infection and could be exploited for vaccine purposes. There was no knowledge of the existence of these kinds of proteins prior to this study.
“The capacity of a pathogen to overcome host barriers and establish infection is […]