Endogenous Retroviruses and Human Evolution
Humans share about 99% of their genomic DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos; thus, the differences between these species are unlikely to be in gene content but could be caused by inherited changes in regulatory systems. Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) comprise ∼ 5% of the human genome. The LTRs of ERVs contain many regulatory sequences, such as promoters, enhancers, polyadenylation signals and factor-binding sites. Thus, they can influence the expression of nearby human genes. All known human-specific LTRs belong to the HERV-K (human ERV) family, the most active family in the human genome. It is likely that some of these ERVs could have integrated into regulatory regions of the human genome, and therefore could have had an impact on the expression of adjacent genes, which have consequently contributed to human evolution. This review discusses possible functional consequences of ERV integration in active coding regions.