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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Tipping Points - viruses

The new Tree of Life as published by Nature Microbiology on 11 April 2016, has already stirred up some noise. Mostly as human beings have become a rather obscure leaf on this Tree of Life.

The new Tree of Life (pic) mostly focuses on 92 Bacteria clusters (see upper 75%), and to a much lesser extent on the 26 Archaea clusters and "all five of the Eukaryotic supergroups" (see lower 25%).

For your information: human beings are part of the Ophistokonta, one the 5 Eukaryotic supergroups. "The opisthokonts are a broad group of eukaryotes, including both the animal and fungus kingdoms" (Wiki).

This Tree of Life somehow feels like these "reversed" business organisation charts (eg, link) where the sales persons who have customer contacts are on top of the chart and the CEO is at the bottom. 

Everybody knows that this type of chart has nothing to do with reality, in which the Chief has the Power and the indians dance according to his wishes. Is this Tree of Life a similar graphic?

I am inclined to say "yes" but not so much because humans are invisible in this Tree of Life. The scientific definition of "Life" is flawed, in my view. To define Life by "their metabolic capacities" is just too simple, mostly as such a definition excludes viruses. Indeed, viruses do not eat and do not produce waste (ie, shit). Neither do female eggs and male sperm (link 1, link 2). Yet together they produce Life like viruses (sperm) and a host (egg).

Nevertheless, there is scientific evidence that viruses may be older than any Life on Earth and possibly even older than Earth itself. If latter ageing would be confirmed then alien "life" has become a certainty rather than a possibility. In fact, Science still does not know where viruses come from and how old they are (source). To exclude viruses from this tree of "Life", may relate more to human arrogance and ignorance than to knowledge - let alone wisdom.

I think and feel that viruses are the tipping point towards Life - and Death. Viruses can survive a 30,000 year freeze in polar conditions, find a host, and come back to "life" (source). Just imagine the role of ancient viruses and melting - ancient - polar caps on contemporary human life (eg, plague). Viruses are also the cause of (human) gene modifications (source). The scientific perspective on viruses is slowly changing from (very) negative (ie, diseases) to (mildly) positive (ie, DNA updates).

I think and feel that viruses are the missing roots of this Tree of Life. 

Oleta Adams - Rhythm of Life (1990) - artist, lyrics, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Mother Nature, Father Time
Maybe it's the family of man
Angels cry when they hear that tune
It's sleepless nights for the man in the moon


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