Darwin’s Surprise

Charles Darwin believed that humans evolved from apes and furthermore, a common ancestor. As biology becomes more and more enhanced and developed, we have come to understand that this common ancestor is one to all of Earth’s species. Darwin would be incredibly surprised to find that not only was there a common ancestor that gave rise to the species we know today, but this evolution has been “helped” or aided by non-living viruses. Darwin also believed in natural selection, and the ability for humans to reproduce and exist as a result of selective breeding. He would be surprised to know that there are specific genes that can code against some of the pressures that decrease the likelihood of reproduction (for example, the article discussed the receptors that some humans have in response to AIDS). These receptors will protect many humans from the virus, and will inevitably create a more fit population of humans with resistance to AIDS.

The most surprising thing that I learned from the article was the fact that our bodies are “littered with shards of retroviruses”. Not only is this fascinating that those shards of viruses that were found in the world long ago are still contained within the human body after all this time through generations and generations, but the fact that the this retroviral DNA must have been inherited from a common ancestor as it is found within all types of species. It was also interesting to find out that the placenta in a woman’s body was developed as a result of an endogenous retrovirus, which shows that these viruses may not be all that bad for species today.

Viruses have played a crucial role in evolution. In biology class, we were always taught that our genes and organs, etc. evolved from a common ancestor, and more recently, apes. Contrary to common knowledge, viruses have also been involved in our evolution. Mammals have developed the placenta, giving rise to the idea of giving birth in place of laying eggs. The finding of retrovirus shards in our DNA has given biologists a deeper understanding of what species humans share identical shards, what viruses each species has developed immunities to, and the course and timeline of specific diseases. For instance, the fact that chimpanzees cannot develop a sickness with AIDS although they are very evolutionary similar to humans is of importance. It has given rise to biologists coming closer to determining what diseases chimpanzees are subject to that humans have developed resistance to. Viruses have provided an essential role in the evolution of species. Scientists have come closer to investigating common ancestral genomes and the lineage of species and their relationships with other species.

I do think that science should continue to revive viruses. I believe that the discovery of viruses that affect our population and many other species today is beneficial to our general outlook on disease and the way it spreads. By understanding the crucial roles of a virus, one can try and create vaccines for the betterment of the planet. As the article states, by learning and reviving dead viruses, scientists are able to understand how to protect the Earth from harmful pandemics in the future. Scientists today are able to determine the antibodies to every harmful virus, and track when and how it died off. Information that comes from these research methods may be able to tell biologists how to prevent some of the viruses that are found in species today all around the Earth, most specifically AIDS.

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One Response to Darwin’s Surprise

  1. arsyed says:

    You bring up a lot of good points that I also found very interesting from the article. I agree that if Darwin were alive today, he would be very pleasantly surprised with the discovery of viruses and their role in the realm of biology/evolution. The idea of viruses acting as some sort of “evolutionary supplement” for life as a whole is absolutely incredible, in my humble opinion. What makes them even more interesting is that although lacking unicellular or multicellular structure (thus making them inorganic), they are still composed of two out of the four necessary macromolecules for life: proteins and nucleic acids. They act as an evolutionary supplement through merging their genetic material with that of an organism, benefiting their individual evolution and the species that they target. This just goes to show how diverse life is, and just how much potential for change there is.

    I also agree that the most surprising fact in the article was how our bodies are “littered with shards retroviruses”. The numbers say it all: 2% of our genetic material can code for all the proteins we need to survive, while 8% has been influenced or is entirely from retroviral DNA. This shows just how much human evolution has been influenced by the presence of retroviruses, and most likely they have sped up our own process of evolution. By evolution influenced by retroviral DNA, humans have become more fit for the various environments they inhabit. Retroviruses most likely played a significant role in humans becoming the most dominant species on the planet.

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