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The whole concept of a virus that converts a perfectly ordinary m RNA into ds DNA, then inserts it into the host chromosome as a provirus in a eukaryotic version of lysogeny – was truly wonderful.

And as the years have gone by, I have seen no reason to lessen the feeling of wonderment: other viruses – now called pararetroviruses, including both hepadnaviruses and plant viruses – whose replication starts at a different position in the cycle have been found; these and retroviruses have been integrated into a whole family of “reverse transcribing elements” – retrons – which include prokaryote transposons; HIV burst in on the scene, and suddenly we know so much about how the immune system works, because a virus messes with it so well.

Ever since I first discovered them as a student, sometime in 1976, I have found retroviruses fascinating.

Not quite as fascinating as Ebola, possibly, but captivating nonetheless.

She goes on to review a qualitatively very different alphavirus – Sindbis virus, an enveloped ss( )RNA virus – for which similar things had been claimed, and shows that virus particles that have been gently treated also make a connector.

But the actual mechanics of one particular process have consistently escaped elucidation – until now.

The 11 November issue of Nature contains, apart from only the second SF short-short story by a South African (kudos, Anand! The mechanism of retroviral integration from X-ray structures of its key intermediates Goedele N.

NOT trivial, and the pictures are absolutely superb.

So are the movies…but you need to subscribe to Nature to see those.

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