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Can viruses do good?

Colin Chambersbiology, cells, compete, competing, competition, evolution, steps Leave a Comment

OK here’s another idea. this one is something I feel like putting out there to see if it stimulates a debate. I don’t know of any research to support it. I just wonder whether it holds water when put under scrutiny. So in the interests of open debate I’ll put it out there.

Is it possible that viruses or virus like organisms could actually have good effects on species?
I ask this because it has really occurred to me watching the many nature programs on these days and reading elsewehere how amazing it is that so many seemingly un related species have very similar adaptations. I can’t remember precisely the adaptations that triggered off this thought but I was able to come up with a an idea how this could work at a genetic level. That’s why I wonder if it could be the case.

Basically I’m wondering if the concept of genetic variation is the only explanation for evolution. What if one species came up with an adaptation that it finds very beneficial. Developing horns, eyes, ears, hair. All these things were developed at some time. Now did each species evolve this on their own or is there some natural mechanism that allows genes to be shared between species.

I’m not talking about a cow mating with a sheep and producing a hybrid. I don’t feel that’s the only way this could happen. My understanding of viruses is that they must live inside cells and embed their genetic code into ours. They then generally try and get the infected cell to reproduce copies of themselves with the new genetic code embedded.

Now if I’ve misunderstood this point then my theory falls down right there. But if that’s right then it show a potential for one organism to transfer it’s DNA to another.

With our worries about avian flu and mad cow disease we’re worried about the transfer of a virus or prion from one species transferring to our own.

While we’re painfully aware of the problems this can cause it makes me wonder if this is also evidence of benefits that it can cause. The reason this could go unnnoticed is because we’re so much more interested in things that harm us than things that help us. So it could easily go unnoticed because it doesn’t put people in hospital. It just seems clear to me that if one disease can spread from one species to another then the same process could possibly produce potential benefits. It could also explain why some people become immune to an illeness as doctors often do. There are other explanations for this but I’m just adding another explanation using a viral approach instead of bacterial.

Now you could argue that the disease is what causes the evolutionary pressure to get better. That is probably likely in many situations. But why did so many species develop eyes and why are they so similar across species. That’s the kind of question I’m considering.

Obviously I’m making a lot of assumptions. This is a relatively new theory of mine but it does interest me. If any one can shed some light on this I’d like to know.

Maybe I’m just on the wrong track. I don’t know.

This article first appeared on my original blog and since then I have learnt that viruses can do good by using a process called horizontal gene transfer.

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