A Surprise for Me, Too

The “Darwin’s Surprise” article was a very fascinating read. It definitely made me think differently about viruses and really contemplate what the future holds for viruses and the human species. I think what Darwin would find most surprising is how we evolved not only from genes from our ancestors, but also genes from the parasitic viruses that invaded them. There’s an odd paradox with viruses, as they aim to take over other cells, yet cannot “live” without them. Darwin would be surprised that viruses have been able to continue to be passed on even though they often are disadvantageous to the cells.

What I found most surprising was how the placenta contains traces of retroviral DNA. Everyone always thinks of viruses as evil and malevolent, yet these viruses led to a possible benefit for the organisms. I never thought that viruses could create advantageous traits in an organism. The fact that scientists are now able to reproduce viruses that were previously extinct is fascinating to me, especially because they are actually able to change them so they can only replicate once. I think the revival of dead viruses can be very useful, especially when looking for a cure or a way to prevent people from becoming ill. The new ideas for defeating HIV require a lot of control, which I think will eventually be possible due to what these scientists have shown us is possible so far.


This entry was posted in AP Biology, Evolution, Viruses. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Surprise for Me, Too

  1. PeterK says:

    I was also fascinated by idea of recreating dead viruses in our genome. As the article described there is definitely a stigma around raising things from the dead (like Jurassic park and Frankenstein) and this was where some controversy presented itself. Often times, when we feel science overstepping its bounds we push back but in this case, the article so brilliantly and clearly stated the benefits of recreating these old viruses. For the same reason we study history, we must look back on these ancient scientific occurrences to learn about the future through a different lens. In fact, the one of our most prized evolutionary successes as humans came from an ancient retrovirus. The placenta—which protects us and gives us the capacity to develop such large brains might never have developed without the evolutionary pressure of some viruses.

  2. RebekahK says:

    I agree, I never though of viruses as being beneficial with respect to the evolution and progression of a species. This article made me look at viruses in a new light. I knew from class that within our genome we have sections of noncoding DNA that was left behind by various retroviruses, but I never thought that these sections served a purpose at one point precisely because they are noncoding. The part of the article that you talk about in which scientists are trying to resurrect ancient viruses in order to create better vaccines against current viruses was also of particular interest to me. At first, it sounds like a scary idea because I’m so used to thinking of viruses as bad, but again this article redefined how I think about viruses. The part of the article that I found most thought provoking was when it went into detail about the subtle differences between retroviruses contained within the genome of the chimpanzee and the human, which is what you found interesting with the advantageous traits that retrovirus DNA gives us. These parasitic viruses are responsible for so much of our evolution, including live births and fighting off other viral infections, and have ultimately been a force that has and will continue to direct evolution.

  3. EthanM says:

    Very interesting post Hannah! I too never would have thought viruses to play a key role in our human evolution. The article, and your post, touched briefly on how the placenta contains traces of endogenous viral DNA, suggesting that the presence of a virus from our ancestral past actually led to an advantageous mutation in our genome. Without it the human species might very well still be laying eggs! My question is this: what other elements of our bodies are a result of the incorporation of viral DNA into our germ cells, and what traits are attributed to the normal process of Darwinian Evolution via natural selection? I have yet to research the topic, but the article and your post have definitely stirred my curiosity.

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