The New Yorker article, “Darwin’s Surprise“, would have definitely surprised Darwin with the knowledge that humans and other organisms have been naturally selected for recombinant DNA. The DNA that we have inherited up until today has developed over time through the integration of viral genes into germ cells. Not only do we share a common ancestor with primates, but viruses too. Darwin would have been excited to learn that his theory of natural selection extended to something as small as viruses. However, for viruses, their genes remained in existence as long as they did not aggressively kill off all available hosts. The article suggests that overtime there have been viruses who have been able to insert their genetic material into the DNA of human (or ancestors of humans) germ cells. And these germ cells just happened to produce viable offspring that just happened to reproduce and develop into generations, carrying viral DNA.
I was a little surprised at the fact that this article was written in 2007. Researchers have been going at this for more than nine years, and we have the capacity to do even more today. I also found it interesting how scientists face a lot of skepticism in their research, but this is actually healthy since it would actually boost the accuracy and depth of the findings.
With knowledge comes a lot of responsibility right? Reconstructing dead viruses is no different. Of course there is a capacity for biological warfare, but that is weighed against a step closer to finding a cure and/or vaccine for HIV and other retroviruses. I think that we should continue to explore this frontier, but we should use this information in an informed way, while knowing the consequences of it being used destructively.