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“The human imagination is a preview of coming attractions,” Albert Einstein was fond of saying. Viruses are essentially roving segments of genetic material that have learned how to “put on space suits and leave the cell,” observed Greg Bear in his epic work of science fiction, Darwin’s Radio, that mirrors Einstein’s adage, suggesting that viruses in our genome function as carriers of evolutionary messages—a genetic radio, so to speak.

Bear sees viruses as transports for primordial nano-encapsulated genetic information that have existed from the beginning of biological time –“a string of atoms, clumped into molecules, wrapped in another kind of molecular shell, a kind of biological M&M.” Viruses are essentially roving segments of genetic material that have learned how to “put on space suits and leave the cell.” In this sense, we may simply be spaceships for virus.

“Imagine an alien creature floating in space,” observes New Scientist about the zombie world of viruses that could hold the key to evolution itself. “It doesn’t grow, communicate or move at all under its own steam. Without a home it is inert. We know very little about it, except that it will start reproducing when it enters the atmosphere of a planet that suits it. Is it living? Is it dangerous? This may not sound like a plausible being, but it pretty much describes viruses, which replicate only when inside a host. Viruses may seem alien, but they are the most abundant and, arguably, the most important organisms on Earth.”

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Category: Science