I think that Darwin would be amazed by how his theories have extended far enough to allow us to come to the conclusion that humans are descended not only from apes, but from viruses as well. We already know that we can examine ancestry by comparing inherited traits (thanks Darwin!), but the fact that we can also prove ancestry by examining viral fragments in our genomes is something that I don’t think any of us could have predicted, let alone Darwin.
Personally, I found the entire article fascinating, especially when the author talked about how this research could potentially be used to find a vaccine or a cure for HIV/AIDS. The disease is notoriously hard to treat and prevent because of how it is constantly evolving, but with this new approach it could become a thing of the past. Speeding up reproduction for a deadly virus seems counterintuitive, but the idea behind it is actually fascinating. In essence, the scientists working on this project hope that by increasing the speed at which HIV replicated, the virus will accumulate so many replication errors that it will be rendered nonfunctional.
The article’s main point about the evolutionary role of viruses is that they may have provided us with beneficial mutations that helped to drive speciation and genetic diversity. Specifically, the author mentions the difference between humans and apes in relation to how they inherit HIV, and there is a stark contrast between the effects of the virus in the different species. While apes can certainly inherit HIV, it rarely makes them sick because they are protected by the PtERV virus in their genomes, while humans are not. This one virus leaves one group vulnerable to contract HIV, while protecting the other- further proving that every advantageous adaptation comes with a cost.
The article has changed my understanding of how viruses can leave a lasting impression on an organism, even if they have been ‘cured’. I’m not too sure whether or not I believe all dead viruses should be revived, but I can certainly understand how they are excellent tools to be used to examine heredity and evolution. As long as we don’t end up with a Jurassic Park situation, I’m excited to see how this research changes our understanding of viruses!