Nature Reviews Genetics 13, 283-296 (April 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrg3199

Endogenous viruses: insights into viral evolution and impact on host biology

Cédric Feschotte1 & Clément Gilbert2  About the authors


Recent studies have uncovered myriad viral sequences that are integrated or 'endogenized' in the genomes of various eukaryotes. Surprisingly, it appears that not just retroviruses but almost all types of viruses can become endogenous. We review how these genomic 'fossils' offer fresh insights into the origin, evolutionary dynamics and structural evolution of viruses, which are giving rise to the burgeoning field of palaeovirology. We also examine the multitude of ways through which endogenous viruses have influenced, for better or worse, the biology of their hosts. We argue that the conflict between hosts and viruses has led to the invention and diversification of molecular arsenals, which, in turn, promote the cellular co-option of endogenous viruses.

Author affiliations

  1. Department of Biology, University of Texas, Arlington, Texas 76016, USA.
  2. Université de Poitiers, UMR CNRS 7267, Ecologie et Biologie des Interactions, Equipe Ecologie Evolution Symbiose, France.

Correspondence to: Cédric Feschotte1 Email:

Correspondence to: Clément Gilbert2 Email:

Published online 16 March 2012