Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Let's Bring Extinct Lethal Viruses Back To Life!

It's a story Michael Creighton would love:

Scientists, ostensibly driven by pure motives to cure disease but darkened by ambition and the dream of making it rich, identify parcels of ancient viruses within the human genome -- viruses that once plagued humanity before they died out or we became immune -- and decide to bring them back to life.

Such paleoviruses could hold the key to curing virus-caused diseases like H.I.V., but at what risk? Creighton, who's thrilled us with remanufactured dinosaurs and nano-particles, could certainly think up some fine mayhem for these long-dead killers.

Frighteningly, it is happening:
Thanks to steady advances in computing power and DNA technology, a talented undergraduate with a decent laptop and access to any university biology lab can assemble a virus with ease. Five years ago, as if to prove that point, researchers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook “built” a polio virus, using widely available information and DNA they bought through the mail. To test their “polio recipe,” they injected the virus into mice. The animals first became paralyzed and then died. (“The reason we did it was to prove that it can be done,’’ Eckard Wimmer, who led the team, said at the time. “Progress in biomedical research has its benefits and it has its downside.’’)
Do we really want to trust paleo-plagues to undergrads?

I learned of this from a fascinating New Yorker article by Michael Specter, Darwin's Surprise.

It is a fascinating read, touching on the irrepressible curiosity of Man, the scariness of the blinding drive for knowledge, the potential for cures to dangerous diseases, and evolution. The article makes the case that without viruses, humans would still be laying eggs, all because of the presence of particles of retroviruses found in mammalian placenta.

Of course the complexity of all that happening requires a leap of faith an didn't stop my faith in a Creator one bit, but it was another thought-provoking section of an article that makes a good read.

I suggest you read it now, before the paleo-virus death strikes us all.

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