Our memory comes from an ancient virus

In summary, an international collaboration of researchers from the University of Utah, the University of Copenhagen, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology has discovered that a protein called Arc, essential for long-term memory formation, shares similar properties to how a virus infects its host. Their findings, published in the journal Cell, suggest that Arc's centrality in memory function is a result of a chance encounter hundreds of millions of years ago. This co-opting of viral genes for other functions is not uncommon, as approximately 8% of the human genome is derived from invasive retroviruses. This discovery sheds light on how neighboring cells share information and communicate, a current area of research.
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Recently, an international collaboration of researchers from the University of Utah, the University of Copenhagen, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the UK, discovered something strange about a protein called Arc. This is essential to long-term memory formation. What they found was that it has very similar properties to how a virus infects its host. Their findings were published in the journal Cell.

In it researchers write, “The neuronal gene Arc is essential for long-lasting information storage in the mammalian brain, mediates various forms of synaptic plasticity, and has been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders.” They go on to say, “little is known about Arc’s molecular function and evolutionary origins.”

As a result of the study, researchers now believe that a chance encounter occurring hundreds of millions of years ago, led to Arc’s centrality in our memory function today. Assistant professor of neurobiology Jason Shepherd, Ph.D. of the University of Utah, led this research project.

Pop science: http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/our-memory-comes-from-an-ancient-virus-neuroscientists-say
Paper: http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(17)31504-0

 
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A pretty large portion of our genome is derived from viruses:
With advances in genome sequencing and computational tools to analyze genomic information, researchers are able to estimate that about 8 percent of the human genome is made of sequences that originated as invasive retroviruses. To put that number in perspective, genes make up about 1 percent to 1.5 percent of your genome.
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-percent-virus-are-you/

So, it's not surprising that evolution has found a way to co-opt viral sequences for other functions. Still, it's a very cool finding. Figuring out how neighboring cell share information and communicate is a big current area of research.
 
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What is the evidence that suggests our memory comes from an ancient virus?

Recent studies have found that a specific type of retrovirus, called human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), have inserted their DNA into our genome. This DNA is now believed to play a role in our memory formation and retrieval.

How does a virus contribute to our memory?

It is believed that the viral DNA inserted into our genome has been repurposed over time to act as a regulatory element for our genes. This regulation helps to control the expression of certain genes involved in memory formation and consolidation.

Can viruses still impact our memory today?

While the viral DNA found in our genome is no longer active in terms of causing illness, it is still believed to play a role in our memory function. It is possible that certain environmental factors or conditions could reactivate these viral elements, potentially affecting our memory processes.

How does this discovery impact our understanding of memory and evolution?

The discovery that our memory may have originated from a virus challenges our traditional understanding of evolution and the role of viruses in shaping our genome. It also sheds light on the complex and intricate nature of memory and its underlying mechanisms.

What further research is needed to fully understand the link between viruses and memory?

While studies have shown a potential link between viral DNA and memory, further research is needed to fully understand the extent of this connection. This includes studying the specific mechanisms by which the viral DNA regulates memory-related genes, as well as investigating potential implications for neurological disorders and diseases.

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