Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: Did viruses help create the human brain? Apparently, yes

By Paul Wallis     Jan 13, 2015 in Science
Lund - New Swedish research has hit an intriguing, if rather stunning range of findings. Ancient viruses have had a lot to do with creating the brain’s neural networks. It seems viruses, natural DNA managers, have been shaping the human brain.
Viral DNA makes up about 5 percent of human DNA or more, depending on different sources. That’s a huge amount of material. When you consider the variety and size of viruses, that’s a virtual Library of Congress of genes and genetic combinations. Even Neanderthal viral DNA has been found, like a sort of ongoing museum.
According to the research by Lund University in Sweden, many of these viruses are millions of years old. That’s quite a pedigree.
In what may well turn out to be one of the greatest understatements of all time researchers have had this to say about their findings:
"We have been able to observe that these viruses are activated specifically in the brain cells and have an important regulatory role. We believe that the role of retroviruses can contribute to explaining why brain cells in particular are so dynamic and multifaceted in their function. It may also be the case that the viruses' more or less complex functions in various species can help us to understand why we are so different," says Johan Jakobsson, head of the research team for molecular neurogenetics at Lund University.
This is core research. It’s absolutely basic. It’s also a whole new field. This could be the start of a systemic decoding of some of the most complex genes of the most complex organic structures ever to exist on this planet.
That’s not all, however. The lineage of viral DNA also acts as a working record of the process of genetic development, in an almost unbelievably complex and vast range of contexts. Viruses are the bete noirs of old style biology in a lot of ways, but their role in genetics is only now being glimpsed. They make more sense as an ongoing “editing app” of genetics than they do in their classic “saboteurs” role. Understanding the viral genetic record will be crucially important to future genetic science and medicine.
The keys to super intelligence and cures for hideous diseases could be as simple as a few gene switches. Viruses are experts at this sort of thing. They could become true symbiotes with humans, quite easily, either introduced as “healthy viruses” or artificial symbiotes to manage diseases or even as an augmentation process. The only limits are the ones you’re prepared to accept, in this sense.
The history of viral research is to put it mildly a series of potholes until only a few decades ago. It’s only comparatively recently that virology has become a fully-fledged science, and much more recently that the significance of viruses in the ecology and evolution has been understood.
Another good news story — there’s a well-deserved kick in the head, too, for a particularly pernicious previous genetic theory. This is yet another refutation of the notorious “junk DNA” theory of the past. Any genetic material without an identifiable application was, almost unbelievably, thought to be “junk DNA”, perhaps the laziest approach to analysis of any genetic data in history. Why would useless junk be lying around at all, wasting space and creating risks for organisms? Even the most mediocre researcher should know that organic chemistry doesn’t “just happen”. The new findings are a dramatic rebuttal of the “junk” theory, which is itself now junk, and deservedly so.
Expect a lot more, and even more dramatic, findings from this line of research. While you’re waiting, also note — viral populations are exploding in this era. If they could create the basic genes for human brains in ancient prehistory, what can modern viruses do?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about human viral dna, neanderthal viral dna, Lund University, Johan Jakobsson
More news from
Latest News
Top News