Evolution and phylogeny of insect endogenous retroviruses

BMC Evol Biol. 2001;1:3. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-1-3. Epub 2001 Aug 10.


Background: The genome of invertebrates is rich in retroelements which are structurally reminiscent of the retroviruses of vertebrates. Those containing three open reading frames (ORFs), including an env-like gene, may well be considered as endogenous retroviruses. Further support to this similarity has been provided by the ability of the env-like gene of DmeGypV (the Gypsy endogenous retrovirus of Drosophila melanogaster) to promote infection of Drosophila cells by a pseudotyped vertebrate retrovirus vector.

Results: To gain insights into their evolutionary story, a sample of thirteen insect endogenous retroviruses, which represents the largest sample analysed until now, was studied by computer-assisted comparison of the translated products of their gag, pol and env genes, as well as their LTR structural features. We found that the three phylogenetic trees based respectively on Gag, Pol and Env common motifs are congruent, which suggest a monophyletic origin for these elements.

Conclusions: We showed that most of the insect endogenous retroviruses belong to a major clade group which can be further divided into two main subgroups which also differ by the sequence of their primer binding sites (PBS). We propose to name IERV-K and IERV-S these two major subgroups of Insect Endogenous Retro Viruses (or Insect ERrantiVirus, according to the ICTV nomenclature) which respectively use Lys and Ser tRNAs to prime reverse transcription.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs / genetics
  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Animals
  • Ceratitis capitata / enzymology
  • Ceratitis capitata / virology*
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Drosophila / enzymology
  • Drosophila / virology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / enzymology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / virology*
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / enzymology
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Products, env / chemistry
  • Gene Products, env / genetics
  • Gene Products, gag / chemistry
  • Gene Products, gag / genetics
  • Gene Products, pol / chemistry
  • Gene Products, pol / genetics
  • Insect Viruses / enzymology
  • Insect Viruses / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / genetics
  • Retroelements / genetics
  • Ribonuclease H / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / chemistry
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics


  • Gene Products, env
  • Gene Products, gag
  • Gene Products, pol
  • Retroelements
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • RNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Ribonuclease H