Oncy Stock – Why the world needs viruses to function
The most striking example, though, relates to the evolution of the mammalian placenta and the timing of gene expression in human pregnancy. Evidence indicates that we owe our ability to have live births to a bit of genetic code that was co-opted from ancient retroviruses that infected our ancestors more than 130 million years ago. As the authors of that 2018 discovery wrote in PLOS Biology: “It is tempting to speculate that human pregnancy would be very different – perhaps even nonexistent – were it not for eons of retroviral pandemics afflicting our evolutionary ancestors.”
Experts believe that such signatures occur throughout all forms of multi-cellular life. “There are likely many functions that remain unknown,” Suttle says.
Scientists have only just begun to discover the ways that viruses help to sustain life, because they have only just begun to look. Ultimately, though, the more we learn about all viruses, not just the pathogens, the better equipped we will be to harness certain viruses for good and to develop defenses against others that could lead to the next pandemic.
More than that, learning more about the wealth of viral diversity will help us unlock a deeper understanding of how our planet, ecosystems and very bodies work. As Suttle says, “We need to invest some effort in trying to figure out what’s out there, just for our own good.”
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