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Muskoka Post Staff
David R. Wessner, Ph.D. (Dept. of Biology, Davidson College) wrote in a Nature Education resesrch paper that where viruses came from is not a simple question to answer. One can argue quite convincingly that certain viruses, such as the retroviruses, arose through a progressive process. Mobile genetic elements gained the ability to travel between cells, becoming infectious agents. One can also argue that large DNA viruses arose through a regressive process whereby once-independent entities lost key genes over time and adopted a parasitic replication strategy. Finally, the idea that viruses gave rise to life as we know it presents very intriguing possibilities. Perhaps today's viruses arose multiple times, via multiple mechanisms. Perhaps all viruses arose via a mechanism yet to be uncovered. Today's basic research in fields like microbiology, genomics, and structural biology may provide us with answers to this basic question.
Credit: Graphic by Shireen Dooling
Major class of viruses reveals complex origins.
Contemplating the origins of life fascinates both scientists and the general public. Understanding the evolutionary history of viruses may shed some light on this interesting topic. To date, no clear explanation for the origin(s) of viruses exists. Viruses may have arisen from mobile genetic elements that gained the ability to move between cells. They may be descendants of previously free-living organisms that adapted a parasitic replication strategy. Perhaps viruses existed before, and led to the evolution of, cellular life. Continuing studies may provide us with clearer answers. Or future studies may reveal that the answer is even murkier than it now appears.