I think this article is titled Darwin’s Surprise because the viral component of our evolution as humans would surprise him. Though Darwin believed our lineage could be traced through common ancestors, he would be surprised to know how large of a role viruses might also have played in driving our evolution. Retroviruses in particular have provided another tool with which to investigate relationships among animals. In addition, Darwin would expect that organisms infected by a harmful virus would be selected against by nature because they were less fit to survive and reproduce. It would seem counterintuitive that retroviruses have made their way in pieces into our DNA.
I found the concept of retroviruses becoming part of an organism’s genome and making it resistant to the virus to be surprising. The idea that incorporating the genetic material of something that can be so devastating into an organism’s genome could be beneficial seems contradictory. I was very surprised to find that eight percent of our DNA is composed of the remains of retroviruses. So much of an organism’s defense against harm seems to be preventative, whether is be breaking down the intruder or inhibiting its processes. However for the retroviruses, it is their incorporation that eliminates them as a threat. That immunity can then be passed on through the generations.
The article suggests that viruses play an extremely significant role in evolution. If pieces of retrovirus DNA have ended up in our DNA, the article claims they must have played a “major role in our evolution.” One of the specific cases pointed to is the development of the placenta. Scientists found retroviruses on the syncytium of the placenta in many different mammals. Despite the presence of the retroviruses, all the organisms were healthy. Mechanisms in the retroviruses were mirrored in the placental cells by the protein syncytin which allows the cells to fuse together. The information and ideas presented in the article definitely changed my understanding of viruses. It is easy to look at them as purely harmful, what with all the damage they have and are still causing. Their mechanics are fascinating, but they achieve such terrible ends. However it appears that not only have they played a massive role in our evolution, but the study of viruses is opening doors to new potential solutions to the worst viral diseases. They have proven to be capable of much more than just inflicting damage to organisms and have possibly had crucial effects on humans that allow us to thrive.
I think there is definitely an advantage to being able to revive dead viruses for scientific purposes. Scientists have the records of many extinct viruses existences. If they can recreate and observe them, they could lend a very unique and helpful perspective to how to eliminate current viruses. It is a frightening concept in a way, but if the knowledge is used for the right purposes it could prove invaluable. Especially since many extinct viruses were defeated by the organism they used to invade, studying them further will likely allow scientists to zero in on the exact processes that allowed the organism to accomplish such a task.