Darwin’s Surprise

This article named “Darwin’s Surprise” proposes the suggestion that viruses played a key role in human evolution. The article states that Darwin would not only be surprised by this suggestion, but also “delighted,” as his theory that humans and apes shared a common ancestor was strengthened through findings that suggested the two species shared viral fragments.

Honestly, the most surprising thing about this article was the initial idea to put viruses back together to study their effects of evolution. Although probably well controlled, the idea that something could go wrong, and one of the viruses that were put back together turns out stronger than the original strain, and is some how used for some bio-terrorism plot, is stuck in my head. (Although this is a very Hollywood-esque thought.)

This article suggests that viruses have greatly influenced evolution. The text quotes Luis P. Villarreal, “Viruses may well be the unseen creator that most likely did contribute to making us human.” Before reading this article, I never thought that viruses played this large of a roll in evolution. One fact that stood out to me in the article was that roughly 8% of the human genome is made up of fragmented retroviruses. After reading this article, I have gained both new insight on the role of viruses, and how they impact evolution.

I believe that scientists should continue to “revive” dead viruses, but only to a certain extent. As I mentioned earlier, I have this unreasonable fear that some sort of apocalyptic/Jurassic Park scenario is going to occur, but instead of dinosaurs, viruses will be running rampant. However, I do see the merits of studying “dead” viruses to better understand out past, and how it can affect out futures.

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

One Response to Darwin’s Surprise

  1. RebekahK says:

    I agree that this article has completely reshaped how I think of viruses. I never thought of them as being useful and mostly thought of them as parasitic entities. Although viruses can seem scary, I found this article fascinating and the fact that scientists are able to reconstruct extinct viruses amazes me. I don’t share your fear that the viruses could become the next bio-terrorism weapon, but rather I’m hopeful for the direction that these ancient viruses might lead modern medicine. The article touched upon research regarding the differences between chimpanzees and humans, specifically the way a certain protein evolved to make these similar organisms immune to either PtERV or HIV. Hopefully, through the reconstruction of the retroviruses contained in the human genome, biologists will be able to effectively create a drug that will make our gene act like that of our primate relatives without losing its current function which protects us from PtERV. I’m curious to know what else hides in our genome, because I would have never guessed that one of the defining characteristics of a mammal, live births, can be attributed to endogenous viruses. This article has changed the way I think about viruses from being objectively bad to something much more complex. I now see viruses as one of the guiding forces of evolution.

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