July 19, 2020

Evolution and Viruses

A common thread among living things across the planet is how they are able to adapt to changing environments by means of an evolutionary process. Thousands of studies have determined lineage through changing characteristics for many species of animals that have, in essence, morphed in shape and traits over time. Throughout each transition, DNA changes subtly and an effective recording is maintained in markers that allow scientists to trace ancestry and identify relationships.

Findings from studying evolution provide a wealth of helpful information, such as how humans adapted to different climates and how migration affected the adaptations. In the animal kingdom, scientists are able to determine when certain types of fish began to walk on land for the first time. Similar discoveries show how snakes evolved away from having limbs to instead favor slithering for locomotion. One could possibly make an argument there, why would snakes evolve legs to walk on land like lizards and then evolve away from quadrupedalism to slide across the ground?

Illustration of Virus and DNA
Illustration of Virus and DNA
While it may seem counterproductive for snakes to grow legs over time and later not require their use, there is another intriguing question here. What happens to the cells and DNA or RNA from the legs during a quadrupedal phase after the fact? Similarly, the question can be asked with humans and the evolution of the appendix. Humans are currently born with the organ in this age, but there is a strong likelihood that eventually will not be the case as the appendix evolves completely away into nothing more than a trace marker it once existed.

Suppose the matter shed from evolving creatures is not really lost over thousands of years and instead is retained in complex biological environments; theorizing that long and arduous process of evolution results as free radical fragments of DNA and RNA floating within the systems. For instance, as animals evolve beyond the need of certain biological characteristics, cells composing those features are shed in fragments wrapped in proteins we later identify as viruses. When introduced to a system of evolved biological function, the rogue instruction sets cause disturbances and short-circuiting as they are only fragments of larger programs.

Perhaps this could explain why a number of ailments to humans, like influenza,
coronavirus, and many other diseases manifest similar symptoms when the virus interacts with biological entities. It also provides a possible explanation of how new viruses are constantly being discovered if they are in fact a byproduct of evolutionary process in animals. The disposed DNA and RNA material could be excreted by an animal in some way, through the digestive tract or maybe a type of osmosis process, then passed to hosts by a variety of means.

Language and attitude about viruses tend to give an impression that viruses are intelligent, like they intentionally seek hosts to occupy for propagation. The theory of shed DNA is quite the opposite whereby material is discarded by one animal and ingested or inhaled by another. After all, the virus is deceased with the host and no longer survives when all hosts have expired. It makes sense to then consider viruses as unintelligent fragments of instruction sets left behind from thousands and millions of years of biological evolution.