Two questions from a layman about viral genetics

mcginnis at mcginnis at
Wed Mar 13 11:18:24 EST 1991

I have two questions that I would like to ask someone who understands
something of the genetics of viral infection.  I am a lowly electrical
engineer so any explanation would need to be accordingly simple.

1) I understand that many types of viral infections are permanent,
   particularly retro-virus infections.  I believe that the genetic
   material is inserted among that of normal cells and periodically
   becomes active but does not kill the host cell.

   Is it possible that some virus outbreaks come from people who were
   infected years before the outbreak?  Maybe we not only occasionally
   get childhood diseases from children but ocassionally give them
   viruses that we had as children, like chickenpox.  Does this seem
   possible and likely?

2) If all retroviruses depend upon the substance "reverse transcriptase"
   in order to infect a cell, and reverse transcriptase does not ever
   occur in uninfected cells, why can we not develop an immunization to
   specifically attack cells bearing reverse transcriptase?  Is the RT
   restricted to the nucleus?

   How about this?  Make retrovirus-like RNA sequences of toxins that
   could only be activated by reverse transcriptase.  I think I read
   that loose RNA is readilly picked up by cells (in vitro anyway).
   Maybe it would be possible to get infected cells to self-destruct
   rather than getting the immune system to identify them.

Any explanations will be very welcome.  I prefer E-Mail.


Michael McGinnis
Academic Computing Center
University of Kansas

internet:  mcginnis at
bitnet:    mcginnis at ukanvax

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