Friday, October 5, 2007

Viruses: Case study in evolution

Posted by: Marisa Dowling

Evolutionary biologists have struggled to prove one of the central tenets of evolution: isolation leads to speciation. Previously scientists could only show the effects of natural selection on one trait, but Dr. Paul Turner of Yale University has been able to create a new viral species through isolation. This experiment marks the first species to be ever be created in the lab via a process that could occur in the wild.

For his experiment, Turner monitored a bacteriophage colony and found that one mutated virus could infect 2 additional species of bacteria. When Turner's lab isolated this mutant virus with its new host, they found that within 15 days it had lost its ability to infect other bacteria. The virus had perfectly evolved to its new host.

Turner believes this isolation paradigm may be how viruses jump from one species to another, as one chimpanzee retrovirus did as it lept to humans and became HIV. In the meantime, Turner's work has concretely advanced the theory of evolution.

My comment: Is interesting that they seem to assume viruses are "alive" because they can evolve. Should that be a criteria for life?

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