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Snake DNA turns up inside wild gerbils

Snake DNA turns up inside wild gerbils

New Scientist

Image: born1945

You might expect a gerbil to end up inside a snake. But part of a snake ending up in a gerbil?

A small chunk of snake DNA has indeed turned up in wild gerbils, and it could one day show up in a host of other species too. Known as a “short interspersed element” (SINE), it belongs to a class of non-coding DNA called retroposons, which are frequently copied and pasted from one location to another within an animal’s genome.

The clue to how it got into gerbils came when Oliver Piskurek and Norihiro Okada of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Yokohama, Japan, analysed the genome of the taterapox virus, which affects African gerbils. They found the unmistakable signature of a SINE from the poisonous carpet viper (Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesDOI: 10.1073/pnas.0700531104), and conclude that the taterapox virus originally infected the snake, inadvertently incorporated the snake’s SINE, and then infected the gerbils. Read more on…