Manticorean Theory of Evolution

One of my old crazy theories was that virus-like entities are an essential component of the evolution of species.  My reasoning behind this was in the style of the ancient Greeks, i.e. by sitting, thinking, but doing no actual empirical testing.

Using computers as an analogy, if a vector existed for the propagation of genetic material between species, the entire evolutionary process becomes massively paralleled.  This would allow for a much faster rate of evolution, as well as the possibility for the same genetic changes to occur among many members of the same species nearly simultaneously.  This would greatly increase the likelihood of permanent change.  So, from an entirely mathematical prospective, this would make the entire process far more robust.

I decided to call this the “Manticorean theory of evolution” for the obvious reason.

This would imply that our DNA should primarily consist of bits and pieces of ancient viruses, with a smaller amount reflecting persistent species-specific mutations.

I haven’t been following this area, but here’s a recent quote from “Viruses: The unsung heroes of evolution”:

It’s not just bacteria that are full of virus genes. Geneticists have discovered that the genomes of every living organism appear to be laden with the remains of ancient viral infections. In eukaryotes, the most complex domain of cellular life including humans, the main source of this DNA is retroviruses – RNA viruses that, after infecting a cell, convert their genome into DNA and integrate it into the host. Sometimes they become a permanent addition, called an endogenous retrovirus, or ERV.

ERVs have been known of since the 1970s, but the full extent of their infiltration did not become apparent until 2003, when genome sequencing revealed that our DNA is absolutely dripping with them. At least 8 per cent of the human genome consists of clearly-identifiable ERVs. Another 40 to 50 per cent looks suspiciously ERV-like, and much of the rest consists of DNA elements that multiply and spread in virus-like ways.  Taken together, virus-like genes represent a staggering 90 per cent of the human genome. ERVs have also been found in rodents, apes, monkeys, koalas – essentially everywhere geneticists look. “There is this continuous raining of viral genes into cellular genomes,” says Forterre.

Maybe not so crazy!

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~ by secondhandparanoia on January 11, 2010.

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