The Undead Viruses

If Darwin were alive today, he would be astounded by the advancements we have made in scientific research. In terms of viruses, he would be most surprised to know that humans have descended from not only apes, as he theorized, but viruses as well. Another concept that he would be surprised by is how viruses defeated by evolution, and rendered dead, stay in the human genome. Darwin pioneered the theory of evolution and would love to see how evolution acts on everything, even down to nonliving organisms like viruses.

One of the most fascinating parts of the article for me was how viruses can be beneficial in some circumstances. I have always heard about viruses that cause mass death and destruction, like HIV, but never thought about how viruses can actually be beneficial. While reading about how placentas were formed and the role of viruses in this process, I was fascinated by how retroviruses could have helped mammals become live-birthers instead of egg-layers. Also, I am still shocked by how quickly viruses can adapt and develop immunities to vaccinations. I think that by researching viral mutations, our society will take great leaps in terms of scientific understanding.

Viruses have such a bad reputation because there are some that do pose a very large threat to the human population, however there are plenty of other viruses that will not kill you and may even end up being beneficial. In terms of evolution, viruses can be used to trace back the history of our species, and fundamentally of all species. Viral fragments in DNA are essentially fossils, buried inside of our genetic material and carrying information from millions of years ago. In fact, endogenous retroviruses share the same places on the genome in humans and some primates. In order for this to occur, that DNA must be inherited by a common ancestor. This article has definitely changed my understanding of viruses. Although I previously thought that viruses only serve to infect, I am astounded by the possibilities of using viruses to trace evolutionary relationships as well as research in traits that humans developed as a result of viral exposure.

The types of viruses encompass a wide array of illnesses from the common cold to ebola, which means there are varying levels of how dangerous each of these viruses are. Should scientists revive dead viruses, there are many potential risks. First, when resurrecting dead viruses, no scientist can be 100% sure that they know what that virus does. This could be very problematic and may potentially unleash a new type of virus. Although I believe that reviving dead viruses can be helpful to further understand our evolutionary history, scientists must be extremely cautious when dealing with viruses. Since they mutate so quickly, when reviving dead viruses, one should not be researching simply to test whether those viruses can thrive in a healthy cell. Those doing research should have a clear, detailed idea of what the virus resurrected is capable of and how it can best be kept contained. Although examining viruses may be key to understanding where we came from and how we developed as a species, it is a risky subject matter and resurrected viruses in the wrong hands could cause death and destruction.

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