Viruses: Parasites or our new BFFs??

If viruses are linked to introns (non-coding regions of our genome) then we carry bits and pieces of thousands of long-decrepit viruses in our own genetic code. When your average person thinks of viruses, they think of parasites that cause illnesses like the flu or HIV. Recently, scientists have been discovering more about how viruses change the population. Viruses can drastically change the allelic frequency of a population if they kill off everyone who hasn’t developed a mutation that prevents the virus from affecting them. Basically, every major viral disease that caused a dramatic change in population also affected what we define as human today by changing the gene pool. If we change our view of viruses from pure pathogens, and realize that we may have a symbiotic relationship, viruses suddenly become a lot less one-dimensional. We can now use viruses to track human development and learn more about our own evolution.

With the new knowledge that viruses aren’t just parasitic killers, we may have to reconsider our methods of prevention as a world. If viruses are helping us by changing our own genome (changing us from animals that lay eggs to humans that develop in fetuses) altering this growth by limiting the spread of viruses could be a huge long-term mistake. What if we have everyone vaccinated for the flu now, and we don’t get part of the flu DNA injected into our genome? This could be fine for 1,000 years, but what if 1,001 years later we desperately need the proteins that the flu virus makes- say they protect us against an even more lethal viral infection- and none of us have them? With all of our perceived knowledge about viruses and immunology, we really don’t know anything about the long-term effects of eliminating the affects of many viruses. We could be setting ourselves up for extinction-level viral infections if we don’t look at the long term. Humans have a long history of screwing up the world (climate change) when they are focused on short term benefits. I understand and absolutely stand for prevention and treatment and vaccines of deadly viral infections, but I think we should seriously consider the long-term effects of creating vaccines for every low-level virus out there. We could come to deeply regret it in years to come.

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

One Response to Viruses: Parasites or our new BFFs??

  1. MaddieS says:

    Yes, biology is an ever growing field, where we can often believe we are helping nature when we are actually harming it. This is especially relevant to evolution and climate change because we have only started gathering data on processes that take thousands of years. I believe we should continue to research viruses and their antivirals, especially from seeing the devastating effects of the zika virus and HIV today, but I can start to understand the downsides of such right now. Scientists are faced with these sorts of ethical questions all the time. Do we save individual lives from a terrible disease or allow nature to take its course and possibly produce a more fit species? It is a battle between ethics and curiosity. This battle has manifested itself among eugenics, biological patenting, and the environment. I think it would be interesting to delve into ethical science.

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