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The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s

8. A GIANT VIRUS Previous | Next

It’s a freak that could rewrite the story of life

IN a freezer in Marseille, France, sits a virus that is by far the biggest virus known to science; it is huge, around thirty times bigger than the rhinovirus that gives you a common cold. And it is staggeringly hard to kill. Most viruses can be destroyed by high temperatures or strong alkalis, or shaken to pieces by sound waves – but not this one. That’s not what has made scientists sit up and take notice, however.

This giant virus’s biggest impact won’t be on the healthcare systems of the globe. It will be, most likely, on the history of life on Earth. Mimivirus doesn’t fit with the established story of how life on Earth got going. Viruses are not classified as alive, yet Mimi has a genome that, in parts, looks like yours. Mimivirus seems to be part of the story of life on Earth – and it may even rewrite the book of life itself.

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Location:Lewes, UK
Joined:23/07/2008
Posts:24

#1 - Posted: 05/09/2008 17:00

At last, people seem to be willing to take viruses seriously. New Scientist ran a feature last week (here, subscription required) that suggests not only are viruses 10 million times more common than previously estimated, they are also a "creative evolutionary force of unparalleled reach and power". They are "right at the heart of early evolution". The discoveries "may be the biggest advance in evolutionary thinking since the discovery of the gene", and "challenges many tenets of evolution, not least that it is driven by competition between selfish genes."

This is music to my ears (eyes?) - it's the conclusion I came to in the Giant Virus chapter of the book. The thing is, will anybody work out the connection to death and sex?
 I'm convinced it's there: our new understanding of viruses may be the thing that deposes the selfish gene, which would allow some kind of group selection, and allow for death and the most obvious source of sex. It's not straightforward, but I think there's something there...

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