Paleovirology is the study of ancient viruses. Unlike many multicellular organisms, viruses do not leave a true fossil record, meaning that their evolutionary biology over timescales spanning millions of years has, until recently, been poorly understood.

The genomes of multicellular organisms are riddled with fragments of viral infections, known as endogenous viral elements (EVEs), the most common of which are the vertebrate endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). These EVE and ERV sequences can be used to unravel the long-term evolutionary biology of viruses, and also to study the interactions between viruses and their hosts over geological timescales. The spread of EVE sequences within the host genome can also be understood in the context of the highly diverse set of selfish genetic elements that reside within the genomes of their hosts. Some of these EVEs are also functional – exapted sequences, used by the host for its own ends, such as mammalian placentation or antiviral defence. Other EVEs, while largely dormant, can occasionally be re-activated and cause serious disease in their host. In the paleovirology lab, we use EVEs to study the evolutionary biology of viruses, as well as the consequences of EVEs for the biology of their hosts.


19/02/18 The vampire bat has its genome sequenced and analysed, including a paleovirological overview of its EVE content

04/09/17 Editorial overview for special issue on paleovirology published in Current Opinion in Virology, by Aris Katzourakis

09/08/17 Campbell, Aswad & Katzourakis on the origins of virophages and polintons

04/08/17 Aswad & Katzourakis discovering novel herpes-like viruses from ‘throwaway’ fish genome data

10/01/17 Aiewsakun & Katzourakis on the marine origin of retroviruses in the early Palaeozoic era.

25/06/15 New paper on the time dependency of foamy virus evolutionary rate estimates.

19/06/15 Gemmell, Hein & Katzourakis on directional selection in human endogenous retroviruses, and possible roles in stem cell identity.

17/06/15 New paper on CTL driven recombination in HIV that could impact disease progression.

12/03/15 Review on endogenous viruses by Aiewsakun & Katzourakis in Virology, for the “Diamond” special reviews issue.

04/08/14 Katzourakis, Aiewsakun & co-workers on foamy viruses, showing potential transmissions amidst stable and ancient co-divergence.

17/07/14 Our paper on how larger mammalian body size leads to lower retroviral activity.

12/07/14 Katzourakis & Aswad on the evolution of virophages, giant viruses and maverick transposons.

19/06/14 Aswad & Katzourakis on the first endogenous herpesvirus, and combining paleovirology with metagenomics to study herpesviruses

29/11/13 Postdoc available on HERVs and pathophysiology in Oxford.

07/11/13 Gemmell et al. on Sex-specific aspects of endogenous retroviral insertion and deletion.

12/08/13 Just out – Theme issue on paleovirology in philosophical transactions of the royal society.

Selected Publications

Aiewsakun P, Katzourakis A. (2017) Marine origin of mammals in the early Palaeozoic era. Nature Communications

Katzourakis A, Magiorkinis G, Lim AG, Gupta S, Belshaw R, Gifford R. (2014) Larger mammalian body size leads to lower retroviral activity. PloS Pathogens

Katzourakis A. (2013) Paleovirology: inferring viral evolution from host genome sequence data. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B

Aswad A, Katzourakis A. (2012) Paleovirology and virally derived immunity. Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Katzourakis A, Gifford RJ. (2010) Endogenous viral elements in animal genomes. PLoS Genetics

Katzourakis A, Gifford RJ, Tristem M, Gilbert MTP, Pybus OG. (2009) Macroevolution of complex retroviruses. Science

Gifford RJ, Katzourakis A, Tristem M, Pybus OG, Winters M, Shafer RW. (2008) A transitional endogenous lentivirus from the genome of a basal primate and implications for lentivirus evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

Katzourakis A, Tristem M, Pybus OG, Gifford RJ. (2007) Discovery and analysis of the first endogenous lentivirus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA