Friend or Foe?

Viruses have always had a poor reputation as transmitters of death and sickness. However, Daniel Specter shows that perhaps the tiny viruses that have made hosts of living bodies for their own benefit are not as bad as we think. The most surprising part of his article was the analysis of the effect of viruses and how they can be incorporated into their host’s DNA. It proves that viruses can be of a great benefit to their hosts as well. Research scientist Heidmann stated that viruses might have played a role in giving mammals the ability to have live births which proved to be an advantage for embryonic development and resulted in more well-developed species. Still, these endergonic viruses can still prove to be dangerous especially in the case of the endangered koala species where

The ability for viruses to become endergonic has had a large effect on evolution. The most shocking result is seeing how the TRIM5a protein evolved differently in humans and chimpanzees and ended up having a large impact on each species fitness since each could only defend against one type of retrovirus, either PtERV or HIV, but not both.

This comparison between the two primates leads to the most interesting fact of all: how viruses and their hosts interact with each other. At the start of his article Specter calls the endergonic virus “junk DNA” but in the end, it is quite clear that the relationship between the two is much more profound. It points out the cunning relationship between the two and how viruses might dictate the future of the human species. The endless battle of evolution between the parasitic virus and its host is a prime example of how the fitness of an organism relative to its environment will determine the fate of the species and how it will change over time.

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

2 Responses to Friend or Foe?

  1. kristentk says:

    I agree when you said that the endergonic virus DNA is not just “junk DNA”. I wondered why we never evolved to get rid of extra genes that we do not need and instead have introns get rid of the extra codes in mRNA only. After reading the article and your post, I learned that there are benefits for us to keep viral DNA in our genome.

  2. PeterK says:

    I found the role of the endogenous virus in evolution especially interesting as well. Earlier in the year, we learned about Darwin and his mechanism for evolution (natural selection), but we also learned that Darwin himself had no knowledge of DNA and mutations. The “junk DNA” the article spoke of astounded me, because humans and apes (who darwin claimed have a common ancestor) have the junk DNA in the same loci on their genes. This is the most convincing piece of evolution to me because as the article stated, for this to be a coincidence, humans and apes must have came across the same retroviruses that located themselves in the same spots on each organisms chromosome. When we look into the past, endogenous viruses reassure us on just how brilliant Darwin is, but also are proof of their own on evolution.

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