I believe the article Darwin’s Surprise by Michael Spencer was aptly named. Although the scientific community has long recognized Darwin’s “theory” of natural selection, this new research on viruses contributes strong, undeniable evidence. One of the major parts of Darwin’ s “theory” of natural selection is that all species are related to each other and share a common ancestor from, which they evolved. The viral evidence discussed in this article supports this claim. Humans and chimpanzees (our closest relatives) share a considerable number of the same viral fragments in our DNA. This statically could not be a coincidence and thus proves that humans and chimpanzees evolved from a common ancestor who also carried all of the similar viral fragments in their DNA. The article poses the idea that if “Charles Darwin reappeared today, he might be surprised to learn that humans are descended from viruses as well as from apes”. I think he would be extremely surprised since viruses were not seen until 1935 by Wendell Stanley and Charles Darwin died in 1882. He would also be surprised that life originated from something that is not considered alive.
I had previously known that large parts of DNA are formed of introns, non-codeding sequences. These sequences are considered “off” because they do not lead to the formation of proteins in a cell. What surprised me was that humans had disabled retroviruses imbedded in their DNA. What was even more surprising was the amount, eight percent. I never would have thought that over our evolutionary history viruses would have made their way into the DNA of our gametes and thus the entire species. This article has taught me that not only is this reality but that the viruses were essential to human evolution, and without them the human species may never have evolved into successful organisms.
Like many people I went into this article-perceiving virus as bad. They are parasites and that word has a strongly negative connotation, and for good reason. Viruses have been the bane of human existence for millennia; our immune system is in a constant evolutionary struggle against them. They have caused us discomfort and sickness and have taken our lives all throughout human history. This article opened my eyes to the possibility that viruses could have been an essential step to human evolution and our success over numerous species. Viruses have the ability to shield its host from other viruses. The disabled retroviruses in our DNA have protected us form modern viruses, just as chimpanzees are protected from the negative effects of HIV due to their evolutionary past. Viruses have also given humanity the evolutionary advantage over other organisms. It has been suggested that endogenous retroviruses played a role in a mammal’s ability to have live births due to the placenta. The mammals advanced and prolonged development in the womb has led to their dominance over many birds, fish, and reptiles,” eggs cannot eliminate waste or draw the maternal nutrients required to develop the large brains that have made mammals so versatile.”
Although I was now viewing virtues as more than just evil parasites I was still not convinced that reviving ancient extinct “killers” was a great idea no matter how beneficial that research may be at creating therapies for modern viruses. I like many others mentioned at the beginning of the article was freighted that these experiments were too reminiscent of Frankenstein and Jurassic Park. That it was unnatural to mess with viruses that had been extinct for thousand of years. There are too many risks and too many ways this knowledge could be used with malicious intent. The article was never able to fully convince me that the resurrection of extinct organism was a good I idea but my fears were calmed by the statement that “the viruses [were] put back together in such a way that the virus could reproduce only once.” Thus reducing the risk of these experiments being twisted into bio-weapons or an accident in a lab causing a pandemic.