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Poxviruses and the Origin of the Eukaryotic Nucleus

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A number of molecular forms of DNA polymerases have been reported to be involved in eukaryotic nuclear DNA replication, with contributions from α-, δ-, and ε-polymerases. It has been reported that δ-polymerase possessed a central role in DNA replication in archaea, whose ancestry are thought to be closely related to the ancestor of eukaryotes. Indeed, in vitro experiment shown here suggests that δ-polymerase has the potential ability to start DNA synthesis immediately after RNA primer synthesis. Therefore, the question arises, where did the α-polymerase come from? Phylogenetic analysis based on the nucleotide sequence of several conserved regions reveals that two poxviruses, vaccinia and variola viruses, have polymerases similar to eukaryotic α-polymerase rather than δ-polymerase, while adenovirus, herpes family viruses, and archaeotes have eukaryotic δ-like polymerases, suggesting that the eukaryotic α-polymerase gene is derived from a poxvirus-like organism, which had some eukaryote-like characteristics. Furthermore, the poxvirus's proliferation independent from the host-cell nucleus suggests the possibility that this virus could infect non-nucleated cells, such as ancestral eukaryotes. I wish to propose here a new hypothesis for the origin of the eukaryotic nucleus, posing symbiotic contact of an orthopoxvirus ancestor with an archaebacterium, whose genome already had a δ-like polymerase gene.

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Received: 26 October 2000 / Accepted: 16 January 2001

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Takemura, M. Poxviruses and the Origin of the Eukaryotic Nucleus. J Mol Evol 52, 419–425 (2001).

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