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Viruses May be the Precursors of All Life 488

Posted by Zonk
from the it's-alive dept.
steveha writes "The cover story for this month's Discover magazine tells of a recently discovered gigantic virus, Mimivirus, that has blurred the lines between viruses and bacteria, and spurred speculation that viruses could be the reason life evolved past single-celled organisms." From the article: "This is striking news, especially at a moment when the basic facts of origins and evolution seem to have fallen under a shroud. In the discussions of intelligent design, one hears a yearning for an old-fashioned creation story, in which some singular, inchoate entity stepped in to give rise to complex life-forms--humans in particular. "
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Viruses May be the Precursors of All Life

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  • Sheesh. Wonder if I can stop payment on my credit cards and blame THEM.
    • Which came first? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by goombah99 (560566)
      Which came first the symbiant or the host? One might say well the host of course. But now consider the virus and the bacteria. we are told the host may have evolved from the virus.

      of course bacteria have their own virus like properties. For example, they serialize their objectes and multi-cast them to other bacteria for remote processing. Sometimes data values from that compuation. That is to say, bacteria have plasmids which a small usually circular chunks of data that are docked along side their pri

  • that the computer viruses of today will lead to spur computers to life?
    • Only if the computers get to the point where they get into arguments over whether the computer virus was designed or created through a random process.
      • Only if the computers get to the point where they get into arguments over whether the computer virus was designed or created through a random process.

        ... and ironically the computer that argued that the virus was designed (i.e. programmed by some teenage miscreant...) would be right!

        Hurraih for Intelligent Design!

        • So the question becomes (which a portion of the scientific community refuses to consider solely because of the implications to their worldview) is: Can design be scientifically detected and, if so, how?
    • that the computer viruses of today will lead to spur computers to life?

      No, because computers are intelligently designed
  • I see... (Score:3, Funny)

    by UberMench (906076) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:10PM (#14821439) Homepage
    So, Agent Smith was right, humans ARE a virus. Replicating and spreading, consuming everything in our path. Who says movies aren't educational?
    • Re:I see... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @07:09PM (#14822075)

      So, Agent Smith was right, humans ARE a virus. Replicating and spreading, consuming everything in our path. Who says movies aren't educational?

      Um, no. Viruses don't consume anything, since they don't have a metabolism. Agent Smith (and all the other agents too), on the other hand, uses human hosts to replicate, and is therefore a virus himself.

  • Obviously the guys who named it watched The Drew Carey Show [tvacres.com].
  • Uh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hexghost (444585) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:10PM (#14821443) Homepage
    "In the discussions of intelligent design, one hears a yearning for an old-fashioned creation story, in which some singular, inchoate entity stepped in to give rise to complex life-forms--humans in particular."
    Actually, I just hear a bunch of idiots trying to take a fable from 2 thousand years ago and use it to explain things in place of modern science.
    • Well (Score:2, Insightful)

      by beakerMeep (716990)
      "In the discussions of intelligent design, one hears a yearning for an old-fashioned creation story, in which some singular, inchoate entity stepped in to give rise to complex life-forms--humans in particular. "

      In The discussion of evolutionary biology, one hears a yearning for people to leave out the ideas behind itellegent design so that the scientists can get back to doing their work.

      Seriously, what's wrong with this poster and slashdot editor for letting this through? Why did that need to be include

      • Re:Well (Score:4, Informative)

        by steveha (103154) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @07:50PM (#14822486) Homepage
        Nice of the poster to inject a controvertial personal view in the end of his submission for all of us to flame about.

        Hi, I'm steveha. The poster.

        For the record, here is the story submission exactly as I submitted it:

        The cover story [discover.com] for this month's Discover [discover.com] magazine tells of a recently discovered gigantic virus, Mimivirus, that has blurred the lines between viruses and bacteria, and spurred speculation that viruses could be the reason life evolved past single-celled organisms.


        Please note that I didn't put any personal views there.

        Please also note that Zonk did not put words in my mouth. He put my summary in double-quotes, and then after the double-quotes he put some additional stuff from the article. He edited my link references but did not edit my words at all.

        steveha
    • You might even say that creationism, or perhaps religion itself, is a bit like a virus.
       
      Idiots believe it, spread it to other idiots and to their own stupid children. Faced with a hostile environment (ie science proving it's bunk) it adapts to a form better able to survive.
       
      (I'm joking, but only half . . . . . . )
  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:10PM (#14821449)
    ... if it weren't for the viruses, nobody would see any reason to ditch Windows and evolve!
  • by Arandir (19206) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:10PM (#14821458) Homepage Journal
    Is objectivity dead? Is it possible for scientists to publish their findings WITHOUT stooping to the level of mockery?
    • I remember a college textbook that went out of its way to attack creationism several times. That's just brilliant. Every time a scientist/wannabe scientist takes a jab at religion, it fuels the rabid creationists who view science as being antagonistic.
    • >Is it possible for scientists to publish their findings WITHOUT stooping to the level of mockery?

      Scientists don't publish their work in Discover. It is a news magazine with a science focus and a somewhat sensationalist editorial style. Don't confuse the hyperbole of journalists with the scientists writings. The scientists working on these things tend to publish in obscure journals like Virus Research. For more information on these things including some cool photos (these things are larger than so

    • Is objectivity dead? Is it possible for scientists to publish their findings WITHOUT stooping to the level of mockery?

      I agree. It just gives power to the creationists. Do astronomers feel the need to attack flat-earthers every time they make an announcement?

      The best way to fight them is to ignore them, unless they go out of their way to push their beliefs on others through legislations or in the schools.

    • It's called trolling... and it sometimes happens in the stories or summaries themselves and not only in the comments. Sadly, we can't moderator the articles...
  • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:15PM (#14821507) Homepage Journal
    "The cover story for this month's Discover magazine tells of a recently discovered gigantic virus, Mimivirus, that has blurred the lines between viruses and bacteria, and spurred speculation that viruses could be the reason life evolved past single-celled organisms." From the article: "This is striking news, especially at a moment when the basic facts of origins and evolution seem to have fallen under a shroud. In the discussions of intelligent design, one hears a yearning for an old-fashioned creation story, in which some singular, inchoate entity stepped in to give rise to complex life-forms--humans in particular. "

    Talk about a flamebait article. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, and there is absolutely no reason to mention the latter except to stir up controversy and hatred. And with an article title like "Unintelligent Design", it's a safe bet this is what the writer was after. Good jorb, Mr. Charles Siebert of Discover.com.

  • by wanerious (712877) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:18PM (#14821542) Homepage
    Yeah, it's too bad the focus of the submitter was on the Intelligent Design snippet --- probably the least interesting bit in the article. The most fascinating stuff to a non-specialist like me was the complexity in the genetic code. Much more complex, I gather, than other members of the virus family so far discovered, and in fact sharing some genetic coding with "higher" animals? Wow --- that kind of thing really illusrates what makes science so fascinating.
  • Discussion? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by msbsod (574856) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:20PM (#14821566)
    What discussion? The whole topic of creationism/intelligent design is only being discussed in the US. The problem is that we have too many unteachable people in the US who take every nonsense for granted as soon as it gets the religious smoke screen. And the media in the US love this topic because it allows them to spread their pitiful program 24*7. Not only scientists, but also almost the entire world have put this "discussion" to rest. If you find it mentioned in European media, then only with reference to the difficulties in the US. This is not a discussion. It is comedy.
    • It's only really being discussed in United States media. It's not even a real issue in schools (although it kind of sounds like it is, there's no actual ID classes being taught outside of private parochial schools despite various proposals). It's not like US scientists are suddenly debating Intelligent Design as a serious topic.

      The "debate" is really just a method to sell newspapers and attract news show audiences. It will last until another very loud, vocal fringe group is found, especially if that fri

    • http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/US/733 _ intelligent_design_belittles_2_1_2006.asp [ncseweb.org]

      "One gets the impression from certain religious believers that they fondly hope for the durability of certain gaps in our scientific knowledge of evolution, so that they can fill them with God. This is the exact opposite of what human intelligence is all about."

      --Father George V. Coyne S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory
  • The viruses need the single celled organisms to replicate... but the single celled organisms couldn't realy evolve into proper single celled organisms until the viruses came along to do it...
    • Of course there is a third participant: THE BIRD-FLU VIRUS!

      The viruses need the single celled organisms to replicate... but the single celled organisms couldn't realy evolve into proper single celled organisms until the viruses came along to do it...

      AFAIK, the point is that the virii forced the single-celled organism to evolve beyond single-cell, i.e. to transform into multi-cell organisms.

      It's a little bit like windows, the virii and Linux. First came Windows (single-user^H^H^H^Hcell). Then came the vi

    • The viruses need the single celled organisms to replicate... but the single celled organisms couldn't realy evolve into proper single celled organisms until the viruses came along to do it...

      Did you RTFA? The scientists suggest that a virus similar to Mimi is descended from a cell, or that ancient cells looked somewhat like Mimi. They're not saying that Mimi is the Mother Cell, or that cells only existed once virii were around. They're saying that something like Mimi may have been one of the earliest ce

      • No, they are saying that Mimi devolved to lose the ability to reproduce on its own, but just not very much. Therefore, all viruses must have devolved from earlier reproducing cells. Therefore these hypothetical pre-virus cells must be simpler than bacteria. Therefore, they must have been before bacteria, since simpler life means earlier in time.

        Now may I count the assumptions:
        1. The Mimivirus has devolved from a cell instead of evolved closer to a cell
        2. All viruses were like the Mimivirus at one point
        3. Th
        • Only your third point looks valid to me. The Mimivirus has genes in common to both viruses and other cells.

          "Claverie found genes for such things as the translation of proteins, DNA repair enzymes, and other types of protein. Those functions were thought to be the exclusive province of more complex cellular organisms."

          "certain signature Mimi genes, such as those that code for the production of the soccer-ball shape of its capsid (an outer protein coat common to all viruses), have been conserved in viruse

          • It's nice that there is a combination of cell enzymes and proteins in this virus, but is it because the Mimivirus devolved from an original cell, or evolved closer to a cell, due to some kind of copy error that grabbed some DNA from a host?

            I don't doubt that viruses have evolved, but they very well may have evolved separately from other life, and finding one that is a hybrid raises more questions than it answers.
    • The viruses need the single celled organisms to replicat

      RTFA. Most

      RTFA. Most (known) modern viruses need host cells to replicate. What if the ancient ones did it just fine? But they they got bored of it and started exerting pressure on other proto-life to do their replication for them. What if all of the rest of early life evolved under selective pressure of viruses to be good hosts for them? What if were all the viruses' evolutionary bitches? Just that, you know, things got out of hand and one day th
  • Virues may be involved in transferring genes from one species to another. In fact in many eco systems, it is found that plants, animals share common genes. It is unlikely some plants originated from animal or otherway round or they both originated from common microorganism either. It is more likely that the viruses (or virii as it is called biology) when infected different species, they transferred genes from one species to another. So not only all forms of life evolved from viruses, but current genetic evo
  • Virus Clans (sorry, forgot the author's name).

    The central tenet of the story is that virus' posess and are part of an emergent "hive mind", that all evolution on Earth has occurred at the unconscious direction of virus' attempting to modify the environment enough for the virus' to achieve sufficient numbers and complexity to consciously express their hive mind - all while we poor, benighted humans insist on viewing ourselves as the pinnacle of the evolutionary mountain. The author writing lead me to belie

  • Precursion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @06:26PM (#14821656) Homepage Journal
    Most viruses are RNA coated with proteins the RNA generates from its environment. The earliest self-replicating molecule type we can document is RNA, though prions might turn up now that we know a little bit about them. Prions aren't as durable as RNA, so finding ancient evidence of them might be harder. But once we do, might we not start saying prions are the precursors of all life?
    • Clearly, the lower-activation energy of phosphodiester bond formation between nucleotides (RNA) causes favorability over the much higher activation energy for peptide bonds.

      Prions are defective proteins. You appear to be latching onto an idea and running with it rather than understanding the science behind it, much like Darwinists do with evolution.

      In the context of proper science, your post makes no sense.
      • Re:You are incorrect (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dachannien (617929)
        Instead of trolling, why not try to educate.

        The use of the term "prion" might not be absolutely correct since it was originally used to describe an infectious agent. However, the idea that a protein with two conformations - one as produced by a simpler biological process, and another which can alter a protein that's in the first conformation by putting it in the second conformation - might be fundamental to early biological systems, is a valid hypothesis.

        In fact, it's possible (perhaps likely) that the fir
  • This title of this article should be "We Don't Know Jack". After reading the article I was almost ready to become an Intelligent Design proponent.
  • viruses certainly play a roll in evolution: they are mercenary gene transfer mechanisms, even across species

    as to the roll they played in the very beginning, it's my personal belief they were there from the start, swapping dna between proto-bacteria. i think self-replicating dna came first, then one day a miraculous/ fortuitous event happened: one of the self-replicating dna got swallowed by a little oil droplet, a bag, a micelle, and in this contained environment, was allowed to direct it's self-replication in a more controlled manner. this protobacteria's dna most definitely still had a life outside the oil droplets where it could still self-replicate. so therefore the first "virus" was still self-supporting. but then, parasitically, it devolved and co-evolved with the proto-bacteria to get a free ride: get its energy source for its replication from its new more stable proto-bacteria

    this oil micelle adapation was only one miraculous/ fortuitous moment. the prokaryotes, bacteria, are very simple: loose dna floating around inside a capsule. the eukaryotes are highly regimented: they have organelles throughout the cell, one of which, the mitochondria, has its own genome

    how did that happen?

    it can only mean, one fortuitous day, billions of years ago, one cell swallowed another and instead of being digested, the swallowed cell made "food" (atp, other energetic molecules) for the master cell

    and the rest is history. our genetic history. without that one fortuitous moment, whenever and wherever it happened so long ago, life as we know it would not be the same in the most radical of ways. perhaps the earth would still be just bacterial and algal mats. perhaps life would still evolve more complex, but in ways utterly alien to how they are now

    so there is, in a way, many such "miraculous", if you believe in intelligent design, or "fortuitous", if you believe in undirected evolution, throughout our history as life

    and in the end, it doesn't matter which way you view it: god-directed or random, as long as you agree it HAPPENED

    the real problem with the intelligent design crowd is when they deny basic facts
    • it devolved

            Where has this ground-breaking theory of Devolution been published, and how does it work?
      • http://www.google.com/search?q=evolution+of+paras i tes [google.com]

        evolution is replete with thousands of stories of free-living organisms who co-evolve with other organisms and then devolve (lose some of their functions such that they become entirely dependent on a host)

        a virus is such a parasite

        i said it was my personal belief, but: virus's are just batches of dna/ rna that need a host to replicate

        at one time, that's all there was (free-floating self-replicating bits of dna/ rna).

        one form of this proto-life adapted oi
        • and then devolve

          They don't "devolve". This would somehow mean that the precursor was "better" to your judgement because more functions means "better" right?

          They evolve. As they evolve, redundant functions are selected against, and the organism becomes more specialized at what it does. This is a more sophisticated organism, even if it does less. Remember that your judgement is always going to be biased - it's human nature.

          Using the term "devol
  • is that why you just can't get rid of people who annoy you?
  • It makes sense. A self-replicating nucleic acid form must have access to proteins and aminoacids to multiply... in the beginnings of life, these materials were readily available on the surface of the oceans (primordial soup)... when the first self-replicating acids evolved into unicellular beings (having the ability to CREATE a membrane), others evolved along with them (having the ability to PASS through said membrane).

    Survival of the fittest. Those "protovirii" (term is an invention of mine) which couldn't adapt to the new environment of isolated (membraned) aminoacids, simply disappeared, or, to be more precise, were consumed by the other protovirii. It seems logical that the nucleic sequences with more "useful features" later merged with other useful sequences, obtaining things like the mimivirus discovered recently.

    So it's not "random aminoacids -> hocus pocus -> living cells", but rather "random random aminoacids -> protovirii -> living cells + cell-invading-virii".

    And THAT explains a mystery which i have thought about for so long... the existence of parasites and symbiotes. If an organism evolved, how could another organism evolve to take advantage of the first? The answer is that they evolved from the beginning, it's always been like that. Virii as the beginning of life solves this riddle with elegance.
  • ALL HAIL THE CURCH OF THE MIRACULOUS HERPES(tm)!

    Coming to a street corner near you...

    Great God Herpes, thank you for stepping in and creating multicellular
    life!

  • My biology teacher in High School taught us this. How is this news?
  • I sneeze therefore I am.
  • For a better view check out the large-virus Gallery [giantvirus.org]. I hate it when people publish articles about something visual but only give you a little low-res image to accompany the article.

    So are extant viruses sorta like the biological equivalent of big bang background radiation?
  • Giant Mimi, huh. And what other giant Mimi's are out there?

    Well for starters there's the one that used to be married to Tom Cruise. Quite a pair of Mimi's there.

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @09:18PM (#14823102) Homepage Journal
    The Matrix is definitely one of the most profound movies of all time. The dialog by Agent Smith has these words:

    I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.

    This may as well just be it - the actual truth.

    The discovery of Mimivirus lends weight to one of the more compelling theories discussed at Les Treilles. Back when the three domains of life were emerging, a large DNA virus very much like Mimi may have made its way inside a bacterium or an archaean and, rather than killing it, harmlessly persisted there. The eukaryotic cell nucleus and large, complex DNA viruses like Mimi share a compelling number of biological traits. They both replicate in the cell cytoplasm, and on doing so, each uses the same machinery within the cytoplasm to form a new membrane around itself. They both have certain enzymes for capping messenger RNA, and they both have linear chromosomes rather than the circular ones typically found in a bacterium.

    "If this is true," Forterre has said of the viral-nucleus hypothesis, "then we are all basically descended from viruses."


    Follow the white rabbi
  • by JourneyExpertApe (906162) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @10:28PM (#14823481)
    Don't all extant viruses require hosts to replicate? How could viruses be the precursors to prokaryotes? If they existed before cells, wouldn't they, by definition, not be viruses?

    Disclaimer: IANAMicrobiologist

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