[re-truh-vahy-ruh s, re-truh-vahy-]

noun, plural ret·ro·vi·rus·es.

any of a family of single-stranded RNA viruses having a helical envelope and containing an enzyme that allows for a reversal of genetic transcription, from RNA to DNA rather than the usual DNA to RNA, the newly transcribed viral DNA being incorporated into the host cell's DNA strand for the production of new RNA retroviruses: the family includes the AIDS virus and certain oncogene-carrying viruses implicated in various cancers.

Origin of retrovirus

First recorded in 1975–80; retro- + virus
Related formsret·ro·vi·ral, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for retrovirus

Contemporary Examples of retrovirus

  • He was part of the groundbreaking team that first discovered a retrovirus causes AIDS.

    The Daily Beast logo
    How Botswana Beat AIDS

    Danielle Friedman

    June 4, 2010

  • Instead of using a retrovirus (as Japanese scientists had done) that can cause cancer, they are using an adenovirus which is safe.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Bush's Deadly Blunder

    Jeffrey Hart

    November 26, 2008

British Dictionary definitions for retrovirus



any of several viruses whose genetic specification is encoded in RNA rather than DNA and that are able to reverse the normal flow of genetic information from DNA to RNA by transcribing RNA into DNA: many retroviruses are known to cause cancer in animals
Derived Formsretroviral, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for retrovirus

1977, earlier retravirus (1974), from re(verse) tra(nscriptase) + virus. So called because it contains reverse transcriptase, an enzyme that uses RNA instead of DNA to encode genetic information, which reverses the usual pattern. Remodeled by influence of retro- "backwards."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

retrovirus in Medicine


[rĕt′rō-vīrəs, rĕtrə-vī′-]

n. pl. ret•ro•vi•rus•es

A virus of the family Retroviridae.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

retrovirus in Science



Any of a group of RNA viruses whose RNA is used as a template inside a host cell for the formation of DNA by means of the enzyme reverse transcriptase. The DNA thus formed is inserted into the host cell's genome. Most retroviruses can cause cancer. Retroviruses also include HIV.
Related formsretroviral adjective
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

retrovirus in Culture


A virus, such as HIV, whose RNA codes for DNA, which is then inserted into some part of the host's DNA. This virus comes with its own special enzyme, called reverse transcriptase, which facilitates this insertion.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.