01 March 2006

Unintelligent Design

Unintelligent Design
A monstrous discovery suggests that viruses, long regarded as lowly evolutionary latecomers, may have been the precursors of all life on Earth
By Charles Siebert DISCOVER Vol. 27 No. 03
"Few things on Earth are spookier than viruses. The very name virus, from the Latin word for "poisonous slime," speaks to our lowly regard for them. Their anatomy is equally dubious: loose, tiny envelopes of molecules—protein-coated DNA or RNA—that inhabit some netherworld between life and nonlife. Viruses do not have cell membranes, as bacteria do; they are not even cells. They seem most lifelike only when they invade and co-opt the machinery of living cells in order to make more of themselves, often killing their hosts in the process. Their efficiency at doing so ranks them among the most fearsome killers: Ebola virus, HIV, smallpox, flu. Yet they go untouched by antibiotics, having nothing really biotic about them...."

click the link above but here's teh juicy stuff:

"This thing shows that some viruses are organisms that have an ancestor that was much more complex than they are now," says Didier Raoult, one of the leaders of the research team at the Mediterranean University in Marseille, France, that identified the virus. "We have a lot of evidence with Mimivirus that the virus phylum is at least as old as the other branches of life and that viruses were involved very early on in the evolutionary emergence of life."
That represents a radical change in thinking about life's origins: Viruses, long thought to be biology's hitchhikers, turn out to have been biology's formative force.

Bacteriologist Bernard La Scola first identified Mimivirus, the largest known virus, in 2003. Although Mimi infects only amoebas, many of its kin pose a direct threat to humans.
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. Now the viruses appear to present a creation story of their own: a stirring, topsy-turvy, and decidedly unintelligent design wherein life arose more by reckless accident than original intent, through an accumulation of genetic accounting errors committed by hordes of mindless, microscopic replication machines. Our descent from apes is the least of it. With the discovery of Mimi, scientists are close to ascribing to viruses the last role that anyone would have conceived for them: that of life's prime mover."

well, so much for intelligent design I guess...

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