Viruses, the Unseen Creator

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.

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

3 Responses to Viruses, the Unseen Creator

  1. MichelleC says:

    While reading this article, I was also shocked about how retroviruses could essentially influence us as a species by copying itself and pasting its own genes into our germ cells. Viruses, much like genes, could be passed down from generation to generation. It is a scary thought, but also, as this article emphasizes, may have contributed to the creation of how humans function today. The idea about reconstructing dead viruses did seem crazy to think about. With advances in technology, we can create a virus with ease. How we use this power must be entrusted in people with the right intentions. I agree that we should pursue this work further. We need to learn more about viruses and how they function in order to learn more about ourselves as a species.

  2. McKenzieL says:

    I definitely agree that there is a lot of potential for this kind of research. It’s pretty science fiction-esque, the way these incredibly dangerous particles have also helped to shape the human race as we know it. I’d be very interested to know where research has gone since 2007; scientific research (much like viruses) evolves exponentially, and there’s a strong probability that even more amazing discoveries regarding viruses have occurred in the last 9 years. As mankind’s knowledge gets more advanced, and technology becomes more omnipresent and intuitive, more ethical dilemmas are being raised than ever before. Is it right to partake in research that has the potential to save many lives if it also has the potential to wreak havoc on the human race? This isn’t a question that can be answered, but I think viral research should continue. We must take the chance that this knowledge could be used for evil.

  3. iuliaciu says:

    To comment on the responsibility and risks that we have while reconstructing viruses, I agree with what you say that the positive outcome of the studies might outweigh the negative possibilities. Sadly, it can be such an effective weapon; deadly and hardly traceable. I think that biological warfare has not made it’s big entrance yet. Yes, it has been used for hundreds of years, like the Europeans infecting the Native Americans, but with our technology today, it has a much more deadly potential.

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