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Did Prehistoric Viruses Trigger Human Evolution? A Galaxy Classic


When the mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003, researchers discovered a shocking fact: our bodies are littered with the shards of retroviruses, fragments of the chemical code from which all genetic material is made. This discovery has created a new discipline, paleovirology, which seeks to better understand the impact of modern diseases by studying the genetic history of ancient viruses.

Highly infectious viral diseases -including the Plague, yellow fever, measles, smallpox and he Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people at the end of the First World War, moving from one cell to the next, transforming each new host into a factory that makes even more virus. In this way, one infected cell soon becomes billion -that die when the host dies.

Endogenous retroviruses, however, once they infect the DNA of a species they become part of that species:  they reside within each of us, carrying a record that goes back millions of years. Molecular battles of endogenous retroviruses that raged for thousands of generations, have been defeated by evolution.

These viral fragments are fossils that reside within each of us, carrying a record that goes back millions of years. Because they no longer seem to serve a purpose or cause harm, these remnants have often been referred to as “junk DNA.” Although many of these evolutionary relics still manage to generate proteins, scientists have never found one that functions properly in humans or that could make us sick.

That is until Thierry Heidmann who runs the laboratory at the Institut Gustave Roussy, on the southern edge of Paris,  brought one to life. Heidmann long suspected that if a retrovirus happens to infect a human sperm cell or egg, which is rare, and if that embryo survives—which is rarer still—the retrovirus could have the evolutionary power to influence humans as a species becoming part of the genetic blueprint, passed from mother to child, and from one generation to the next, much like a gene for eye color or asthma.

In a brilliant essay if The New Yorker, author Michael Specter brought Heidmann's discovery to life, showing how by "combining the tools of genomics, virology, and evolutionary biology, he and his colleagues took a virus that had been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years, figured out how the broken parts were originally aligned, and then pieced them together. After resurrecting the virus, the team placed it in human cells and found that their creation did indeed insert itself into the DNA of those cells. They also mixed the virus with cells taken from hamsters and cats. It quickly infected them all, offering the first evidence that the broken parts could once again be made infectious. The experiment could provide vital clues about how viruses like H.I.V. work. Inevitably, though, it also conjures images of Frankenstein’s monster and Jurassic Park."

Heidmann named the virus Phoenix, after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, because he is convinced that this virus and others like it have much to tell about the origins and the evolution of humanity.

“This is something not to fear but to celebrate,’’ Heidmann told Specter one day as they sat in his office at the institute, which is dedicated to the treatment and eradication of cancer.“What is remarkable here, and unique, is the fact that endogenous retroviruses are two things at once: genes and viruses. And those viruses helped make us who we are today just as surely as other genes did. I am not certain that we would have survived as a species without them. The Phoenix virus sheds light on how H.I.V. operates, but, more than that, on how we operate, and how we evolved. Many people study other aspects of human evolution—how we came to walk, or the meaning of domesticated animals. But I would argue that equally important is the role of pathogens in shaping the way we are today. Look, for instance, at the process of pregnancy and birth.’’

Heidmann believes that without endogenous retroviruses mammals might never have developed a placenta, which protects the fetus and gives it time to mature, which eventually led to live birth, one of the hallmarks of human evolutionary success over birds, reptiles, and fish. Eggs cannot eliminate waste or draw the maternal nutrients required to develop the large brains that have made mammals so versatile. “These viruses made those changes possible. It is quite possible that, without them, human beings would still be laying eggs.”

Posted by Casey Kazan. New Yorker Article Link: Darwin's Surprise

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Er...the Plague? That was a BACTERIAL infection. Yersinia pestis. Some research before writing woun't hurt, you know.

Er...the Plague? That was a BACTERIAL infection. Yersinia pestis. Some research before writing wouldn't hurt, you know.

Did Prehistoric Viruses Trigger Human Evolution?

Of course it did - and it still does- and it always will.

Ancient cultures thought that they were a very close part of the Creation - brothers and sisters to everything living and elementary things and all breathing the same air, drink the same water etc. etc.

We are not talking of only "prehistoric" influences. We are talking of a continued influence - we are talking of the cosmic forces that affects all life throughout all times. We are talking of "Evolution".

- Modern man does not consciously make this natural connection anymore, and the modern scientifical society just looks deep in their microscopes in order to find less and less of the whole natural connection.

Everything living and elementary is vibrating just because of different creative cosmological forces on and outside the Earth. Geomagnetism, the Solar Wind, cosmic radiations from our galaxy and beyond, it all has influences on everything on the Earth.

- Evolution is the different changes in all these cosmological creative forces, which first influences the micro cosmos and then goes further up in the universal chain of life building structures.

If something suddenly new happens with these creative cosmological forces of life, for instants a cosmic explosion of some kind, or a magnetic change in the Sun or the Earth, this will course a new impulse that influence on the whole micro cosmos on the Earth.

If such a cosmic impulse is very significant, it will cause some troubles to adapt and those who not are well adapted to the former evolutionary situation will get in some local and global troubles that can be very life threatening and fatale, and then we have a pandemic situation.

- Im sure this had happen very frequently and still is – and I’m also sure that rats and a lots of other animals very wrongly got the blame, as with the Plague and other pandemics.

- For the moment, the “pig-flu” is the big issue, and it’s my opinion that the medical science again are to narrow minded in their approach. Bacteria and Virus can be airborne by the Earth weather systems over several continents and therefore there is nothing we really can do about the spreading.

Of course the modern hurlum burlum of tourist-travelling and transporting this and that, does not make it any better, but in the end we all get the evolutionary effects from these creative forces whether we will or not.

It is just a question of natural adapting and living our lives as natural as possible – and then we again can think of the natural lives of our Ancestors who were fully aware of everything connected and everyting affected.

Ivar Nielsen
Natural Philosopher

A bit 28 days later if u ask me.

It's clear mostly that the way to beat Aids is with a Retrovirus, of this nature and use it to over take and bond to Aids and since everyone has these Retrovirus with in them it means the majority of the cure is mostly already in us. Are body will mostly do one of two things ignore it or prevent it from making harm.

Now it could be reasoned or question the reason why Aids responds as it does is maybe this paper is not the first to be about Retrovirus and some how Aids is really a revived Retrovirus doing what. I suggested the other might do if used to make a cure, but that would also explain why some people who suffer from HIV do not end up with Aids.

Because the Retrovirus within there DNA prevent it, so something that mutated or was a part of one person and not another. By random chance has made that person stronger then the next. But in the end if the Retrovirus are used to help cure it, we take it and make it a part of us. But if we over come it as a people and do not use it with science but over time. It does that anyway so the question is what kind of health affects or any of that might future generations suffer because of making one of the worse VIRUS of are time a part of humanity?

Think about that for a while!!!!

It's too bad the cellular effects of this retro-virus insertion weren't described. Did they express new proteins? Were they deleterious, benign, or neutral?

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