Darwin’s Surprise Journal

Darwin’s Surprise, an article written by Michael Specter was published in the New Yorker on December 3, 2007. This article deals with new developments and theories emerging in the field of  paleovirology and molecular biology. This article was titled Darwin’s Surprise because scientist, Robin Weiss stated “If Charles Darwin reappeared today, he might be surprised to learn that humans are descended from viruses as well as from apes.” Having this historical record of fragmented past viruses in our DNA also seems to provide a basis for the theory that we are related to apes and evolved from the same ancestors. “The only way that humans, in thousands of seemingly random locations, could possess the exact retroviral DNA found in another species is by inheriting it from a common ancestor.”  I think Darwin would be really surprised to know that there are fragmented pieces of retroviruses, also known as endogenous retroviruses in our DNA that allow scientists to hypothetically go back in time and recreate these broken and disabled retroviruses. This was also something that surprised me! But something that really caught my attention was the fact that the process of pregnancy and birth as we know it today might not have evolved as a way to ensure offspring would be viable without endogenous retroviruses, so came the development of a placenta to protect the developing fetus. I never would have thought that retroviruses would have such an effect on our DNA that we would evolve different mechanisms to perpetuate the life of future offspring. This article suggests that viruses have helped us to evolve as a species. We have been able to defeat certain viruses and protect future offspring from contacting them. The work scientists are doing today has completely changed my view on viruses because I didn’t know that viruses could be traced back in time and tell you so much about the evolution of humanity. I think scientists should “revive” dead viruses because as stated in the article, “excavating the molecular past will help address the medical complexities that we confront today” and “viruses have much to tell about the origins and the evolution of humanity.”


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