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Influenza A virus (IAV) is a threat to mankind because it generates yearly epidemics and poorly predictable sporadic pandemics with catastrophic potential. IAV has a small RNA genome composed of 8 mini-chromosomes (segments) that constitute a 5'UTR followed by a coding region and a 3'UTR. Transcription of IAV RNA into mRNA depends on host mRNA, as the viral polymerase cleaves 5'm7G-capped nascent transcripts to use as primers to initiate viral mRNA synthesis. We hypothesized that captured host transcripts bearing AUG could drive the expression of upstream ORFs in the viral segments, a phenomenon that would depend on the translatability of the viral 5'UTRs. Here we report the existence of this mechanism, which generates host-virus chimeric proteins. We label these proteins as Upstream Flu ORFs (UFO). Depending on the frame, two types of host-virus UFO proteins are made: canonical viral proteins with human-derived N term extensions or novel uncharacterized proteins. Here we show that both types are made during IAV infection. Sequences that enable chimeric protein synthesis are conserved across IAV strains, indicating that selection allowed the expansion of the proteome diversity of IAV in infected cells to include multiple human-virus proteins.

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