Luis P Villarreal

Luis P Villarreal

Professor Emeritus, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, School of Biological Sciences; University of California, Irvine

Villarreal has long been interested in virus-host interactions, especially with regard to viruses that persist either in the genomes or epigenomes of their host.  For the last 20 years, he has focused his study on the general role of virus evolution on Life. In the last decade metagenomic assessments of various habitats have led us to realize that viruses are the dominate biological entities of the biosphere and are the most numerous, diverse and dynamic genetic agents on Earth.  Viruses have had major influence on the genesis and evolution of life.

Profile continued

Although viruses have long been dismissed from the Tree of Life a simply destructive and selfish extra-genomic genetic parasites, comparative genomics now makes it clear that viral colonization distinguishes all domains of life. I have been pursuing how and why some viruses (and their defective relatives, transposons) are able to stably persist in their host and sometimes become a colonizer of the host genome. The ability of a virus to persist is a transforming event for host population survival and requires specific mechanisms and strategies (such as addiction modules). These viral derived mechanisms, however, provide new mechanisms of immunity and identity for the host. I am now tracing how viruses have contributed to host group survival from bacteria to recent human social evolution.

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"Viruses are competent in all forms of biological code (genetic and epigenetic). Viruses are also able to adapt at rates up to a million fold faster then that of their host. And virus code has clearly modified and added to all forms of host code. Thus viruses are major editors of host code. But such action is not Darwinian (from the common ancestor). No life form can be considered fit unless in the context of its virosphere/habitat. The presence of a defective virus in host, is evidence of virosphere adaptation. As genetic parasites, viruses depend on others (i.e. host, other virus) for their reproduction. But this very dependence makes them agents of cooperation. And their capacity for transmission makes them agents of social interactions."

(Luis Villarreal)

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