Darwin’s Surprise

Personally I feel that the title of the article itself is quite clever and very amusing, I feel that titling the piece “Darwin’s Surprise” gives a bit of insight into the correlation between the evolution of humans and apes, in the time of Darwin and his own theories, compared to the recent finding of the evolutionary correlation between viruses and the human genome. I feel that Darwin would find the whole concept, since no information on DNA and genes was known at the time, the whole concept; of DNA extraction, building and the general concept of “reviving” extinct viruses would be quite shocking.

The whole concept of “reviving” dead viruses was actually the most surprising aspect of the article. It is interesting and quite mind-boggling to know that one can simply recreate a DNA sequence and build portions of DNA nucleotide by nucleotide. It is even more shocking and interesting to know that one can simply trace the evolutions of endogenous viruses in the human genome and simply build, and “revive” and extinct virus.

The article ultimately suggests that viruses, such as certain endogenous retroviruses “…may actually protect us from viruses that are even worse.” (pg.68) Though often associated as a negative parasite it seems that scientists also have found a notable exception in the case of the evolution of the embryo in mammals, from egg laying mammals into animals that develop a placenta, basically a parasite. The article also suggests that through the study of various endogenous viruses and the sequencing of DNA, researchers have discovered retroviruses in every vertebrate species that has been studied. I think this information has definitely broadened my understanding of viruses, though not considered alive, in reality viruses play a much greater role in various organisms in changing their genetic makeup and ultimately influencing the future evolution of organisms.

I feel that in a scientific society such experiments and research surely comes down to the basis of ethics. Though the information gained in “reviving” these dead experiments is useful in the study of the human genome and its evolution, I feel that personally such matters could possibly be very dangerous. But overall such research would be much more beneficial, yet measures much be enforced and developed in order to maintain the chances of an error to a minimum.

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4 Responses to Darwin’s Surprise

  1. DanaA says:

    I would agree with the fact that the whole concept of reviving viruses is the most astonishing part of this article as well as the most dangerous. Although reviving these viruses have opened our eyes on the role viruses play in the evolution of humans, I also believe that this whole experiment could have put a lot of people at risk. If something had gone wrong or if the scientists weren’t prepared and the unexpected had happened, could these viruses wiped a good chunk of our population out? Due to this, I agree with you in terms of there being certain measures that should be enforced to establish some sense of safety.
    Aside from the rival of these viruses, the beneficiary side of retroviruses allowed humans to go through live birth blew my mind. It’s a crazy thought, humans laying eggs, but that would be the reality of retroviruses hadn’t led to the development of placentas.

  2. elbroderick says:

    I think you made an interesting point about reviving dead viruses being dangerous. There is that fear that it could possibly escape the lab and infect people. However, I do believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. The labs that work with deadly viruses use advanced safety measures and procedures, so I think that the chances of it spreading to the general population are very small. We do need to study them, though, otherwise we may never understand the truth behind these viruses.

  3. josephr says:

    I agree that Darwin would find “DNA extraction, building, and the whole concept of of ‘reviving’ extinct viruses” would be surprising to him, since he had no knowledge of DNA. But, if Darwin had knowledge about viruses and DNA, would he be surprised that viruses could represent “a major creative force” in evolution? I believe that Darwin, having knowledge of DNA and viruses, would also come to the conclusion that viruses changed our molecular identity. An organism would have an increased fitness if it had a mutation, that could be inherited, that made it and its offspring immune to a harmful virus; this would be a lead Darwin to believe this immunity to be advantageous and, through natural selection, would change the allele frequency of the advantageous gene and eventually help evolve a new species.

    Additionally, I agree that experiments and research on viruses comes down to the basics of ethics. In the scientific community, I really hope scientists listen to Harmit Malik’s advice that “If you can’t apply the knowledge, you shouldn’t do the experiment.” So far, researchers have created recreated viruses in such a way that it could only reproduce once, for safety reasons. I feel this is very important. If there was a lab mistake, and they released a virus that could reproduce more than once, it could drastically change the world. When I read this section, all I could think about was a new Black Plague, except now with our advanced methods of transportation, could infect so many more people than the original Plague did in a shorter amount of time. I also thought about how dangerous new information could be in terms of bioterrorism. But, while this information could be dangerous if not controlled, it may be very advantageous in the long run, just like a virus itself.

  4. HiroshiU says:

    When you mentioned all vertebrate species having an endogenous retrovirus, it made me consider that, similar to how all organisms have a universal common ancestor, what if there is an endogenous retrovirus common to all species? This would signal a threat that all current organisms were susceptible to. Moreover, what kind of virus would be able to infect and harm all organisms on Earth? As a side note, I disagree with some of your terminology, such as “reviving” a “dead” virus, because those words imply that biologists consider viruses living organisms. However, since we lack terminology to describe bringing “extinct” viruses back, I’m okay with the way biologists describe virus behavior. I agree that this certainly becomes an ethics issue, but I wonder to what extent the complications will be when a scientist can produce a virus that targets all organisms. I believe people wouldn’t spend time giving the scientist a fair trial because of how dangerous the virus would be not only to humanity, but all of biological life on Earth. From a human perspective, creating a virus on this magnitude would warrant extreme biohazard containment, even if it means breaching the rights of that scientist. If that time ever comes, it will be, like evolution and education, a strong intersection between law and science.

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