One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A hypothetical primitive or ancestral virus.
2(In H. M. Temin's terminology) a hypothetical sequence of chromosomal DNA in a somatic cell that can replicate by reverse transcription and give rise by mutation to an oncogenic virus (frequently attributive, especially in "protovirus hypothesis", "protovirus theory").
1950s; earliest use found in Language.
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