Viruses of the subfamily Orthoretrovirinaeare defined by the ability to reverse transcribe an RNA genome into DNA that integrates into the host cell genome during the intracellular virus life cycle. Exogenous retroviruses (XRVs) are horizontally transmitted between host individuals, with disease outcome depending on interactions between the retrovirus and the host organism. When retroviruses infect germ line cells of the host, they may become endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which are permanent elements in the host germ line that are subject to vertical transmission. These ERVs sometimes remain infectious and can themselves give rise to XRVs. This review integrates recent developments in the phylogenetic classification of retroviruses and the identification of retroviral receptors to elucidate the origins and evolution of XRVs and ERVs. We consider whether ERVs may recurrently pressure XRVs to shift receptor usage to sidestep ERV interference. We discuss how related retroviruses undergo alternative fates in different host lineages after endogenization, with koala retrovirus (KoRV) receiving notable interest as a recent invader of its host germ line. KoRV is heritable but also infectious, which provides insights into the early stages of germ line invasions as well as XRV generation from ERVs. The relationship of KoRV to primate and other retroviruses is placed in the context of host biogeography and the potential role of bats and rodents as vectors for interspecies viral transmission. Combining studies of extant XRVs and "fossil" endogenous retroviruses in koalas and other Australasian species has broadened our understanding of the evolution of retroviruses and host-retrovirus interactions. Copyright © 2017 American Society for Microbiology.
Journal: Microbiology and molecular biology reviews