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Mammalian DNA is littered with the signatures of past retroviral infections. For example, at least 8% of the human genome can be attributed to endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). We take a single-locus approach to develop a simple susceptible-infected-recovered model to investigate the circumstances under which a disease-causing retrovirus can become incorporated into the host genome and spread through the host population if it were to confer an immunological advantage. In the absence of any fitness benefit provided by the long terminal repeat (LTR), we conclude that signatures of ERVs are likely to go to fixation within a population when the probability of evolving cellular/humoral immunity to a related exogenous version of the virus is extremely small. We extend this model to examine whether changing the speed of the host life history influences the likelihood that an exogenous retrovirus will incorporate and spread to fixation. Our results reveal the parameter space under which incorporation of exogenous retroviruses into a host genome may be beneficial to the host. In our final model, we find that the likelihood of an LTR reaching fixation in a host population is not strongly affected by host life history.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





endogenous retrovirus, endogenous viral element derived immunity, immunity, life history, susceptible–infected–recovered model, Animals, Endogenous Retroviruses, Genome, Humans, Models, Immunological, Mutation, Retroviridae Infections