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Research Fellows Directory

Aris Katzourakis

Dr Aris Katzourakis

Research Fellow


University of Oxford

Research summary

Retroviruses are a group of viruses that infect the genomes of their hosts, and are

responsible for a wide range of diseases, most notably HIV/AIDS. In common with

other RNA viruses, retroviral evolution occurs very rapidly. This property has

greatly facilitated studies into the recent evolutionary biology of retroviruses, such

as dating the origin of the viruses responsible for the HIV pandemic. The rapid

rate of evolution of retroviruses has at the same time obscured their more distant

history due to the erosion of the evolutionary signal in viral genomes of events that

have occurred millions of years ago.

Retroviruses are unusual among mico-organisms in possessing a rich ‘fossil

record’, somewhat analogous to the palaeontological fossil record, resulting from

the integration of the viral genome into the DNA of the host. Occasionally, this

integration occurs in the reproductive tissue of the host, and the virus is

transmitted to the offspring. These inherited viruses are known as endogenous

retroviruses (ERVs), and can yield unique information about the evolution of

retroviruses that could not be obtained using contemporary sequence data. Once

in the genome, ERVs can copy themselves to other locations; ~5% of the human

genome is derived from ERVs, far more than codes for proteins (around 1%).

My research combines evolutionary biology, mathematical modelling, in vitro

experimental tests and sequencing, in order to answer fundamental questions

regarding retroviral biology. I aim to understand both the evolutionary dynamics of

ERVs within genomes, as well as the macroevolutionary processes that govern

retroviral evolution in general. Answering these questions will provide a valuable

tool for predicting the outcome of infection, and identifying potential sources of

future emerging infections. Furthermore, an understanding of the role of

retroviruses in shaping the host immune response could help guide future

treatments to retroviral infection.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Paleovirology, the genomic fossil record and consequences of viral gene flow

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2015 - Sep 2018

Value: £319,181.99

The Evolutionary Biology of Retroviruses

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2010 - Sep 2015

Value: £554,188.24