[Paleopsych] Scientist asserts viruses are the engine of mutations that drive human evolutionary change

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Tue Dec 7 10:22:45 UTC 2004

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Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2004 10:01:31 +0100
From: Giu1i0 Pri5c0 <pgptag at gmail.com>
To: transhumantech at yahoogroups.com,
     World Transhumanist Association Discussion List <wta-talk at transhumanism.org>
     , ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>,
     hitbangpost at googlegroups.com
Subject: [wta-talk] Scientist asserts viruses are the engine of mutations that
     drive human evolutionary change

Interesting article (I don't know how accurate from a scientific point
of view): A University of California, Irvine scientist says viruses
are much, much more than nasty little microbes that infect us with the
flu. If he is right, they have infected all of life - with evolution.
In an astonishing set of papers and a new book, UCI virologist Luis
Villarreal contends viruses are largely responsible for shaping how we
look, how we speak, even how we think.
In fact, he says, they are an overlooked evolutionary force, one that
has been powerfully influencing the shape of living things since life
began - actually, since a little before life began.
"I'm saying they are a creative force in the evolution of all life,"
he said in a recent interview.
Villarreal, 56, is accustomed to challenging traditional ideas and
swimming outside the academic mainstream. His unorthodox ideas about
teaching, such as favoring immersion, not lectures, earned him rebukes
from some colleagues but a presidential award from Bill Clinton.
n reality, Villarreal contends, much, if not all, of this noncoding
DNA is really bits and pieces of ancient viruses. They have modified
themselves so they can reside comfortably deep inside our cells while
avoiding our immune systems.
But they are far from being junk. Viruses mutate far more rapidly than
more complex organisms - as much as a million times faster than their
hosts, including humans.
That means many viruses are little packages of new genes that can
endow an organism with all kinds of new capabilities.
When these viruses settle quietly into the noncoding regions of our
DNA, their disease-causing tendencies are suppressed. Eventually they
can be harvested by the host for new genes - for example, by
reproductive cells.
Big leaps in evolution - such as, for instance, a capacity for
language and symbolic thinking among humans - could have happened all
at once, with the incorporation into our chromosomes of fresh new
genes left behind by old viruses.
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