A ciência explica a origem humilde da humanidade: por que somos parcialmente humanos...

sexta-feira, janeiro 29, 2010

I, virus: Why you're only half human

29 January 2010 by Frank Ryan

Magazine issue 2745.

WHEN, in 2001, the human genome was sequenced for the first time, we were confronted by several surprises. One was the sheer lack of genes: where we had anticipated perhaps 100,000 there were actually as few as 20,000. A bigger surprise came from analysis of the genetic sequences, which revealed that these genes made up a mere 1.5 per cent of the genome. This is dwarfed by DNA deriving from viruses, which amounts to roughly 9 per cent.

On top of that, huge chunks of the genome are made up of mysterious virus-like entities called retrotransposons, pieces of selfish DNA that appear to serve no function other than to make copies of themselves. These account for no less than 34 per cent of our genome.

Part of our DNA (Image: Mehau Kulyk/SPL/Getty)

All in all, the virus-like components of the human genome amount to almost half of our DNA. This would once have been dismissed as mere "junk DNA", but we now know that some of it plays a critical role in our biology. As to the origins and function of the rest, we simply do not know.

The human genome therefore presents us with a paradox. How does this viral DNA come to be there? What role has it played in our evolution, and what is it doing to our physiology? To answer these questions we need to deconstruct the origins of the human genome - a story more fantastic than anything we previously imagined, with viruses playing a bigger part than you might care to believe.

Around 15 years ago, when I was researching my book Virus X, I came to the conclusion there was more to viruses than meets the eye. Viruses are often associated with plagues - epidemics accompanied by great mortality, such as smallpox, flu and AIDS. I proposed that plague viruses also interact with their hosts in a more subtle way, through symbiosis, with important implications for the evolution of their hosts. Today we have growing evidence that this is true(New Scientist, 30 August 2008, p 38), and overwhelming evidence that viruses have significantly changed human evolution.

Symbiosis was defined by botanist Anton de Bary in 1878 as the living together of dissimilar organisms. The partners are known as symbionts and the sum of the partnership as the holobiont. Types of symbiotic relationships include parasitism, where one partner benefits at the expense of the other, commensalism, where one partner profits without harming the other, and mutualism, in which both partners benefit.

Symbiotic relationships have evolutionary implications for the holobiont. Although selection still operates on the symbionts at an individual level since they reproduce independently, it also operates at partnership level. This is most clearly seen in the pollination mutualisms involving hummingbirds and flowers, where the structure of flower and bill have co-evolved to accommodate each other and make a perfect fit. When symbiosis results in such evolutionary change it is known as symbiogenesis.

Read more here/Leia mais aqui: New Scientist



Origem humilde da humanidade? Eu já li isso em algum lugar...