I wasnt going to talk about this until later, but a commenter/troll left a comment on my last post:
Umm, Do retroviruses have any clinical relevance whatsoever?
Top ten killers in USA per CDC:
Heart disease: 652,091
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933
Alzheimer’s disease: 71,599
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 43,901
Do you see any retroviruses on this list? Do you now understand why you toil away at 10 bucks/hour? Your work has not an iota of relevance to the real world.
Sure its flame-bait, but thats all Creationists have, so thats what you are going to be confronted with when you bring up ERVs with a Creationist.
ERV readers, I has a second weapon for you.
ERVs are the cause/effect of a ton of diseases, from MS to juvenile diabetes to all kinds of cancers!!
Endogenous retroviruses are not just a neat example of how we can use genetics to establish, without a doubt, that humans and primates and other organisms share a common ancestor. While that is cool enough on its own… ERVs get even cooler! ERVs have practical implications that effect you and me and your kids and your grandma– everyone!
Once again, there is a cool book on this topic, online, for freeeeee if you would like more details and references, but I want to talk about how I use ERVs so you all will have a nice counter example whenever you encounter an online troll while discussing the evolutionary importance of ERVs.
I am interested in how ERVs relate to cancer. There are lots of ways retroviruses can cause cancer– either they encode for an oncogene, or they insert into a tumor suppressor gene, or upregulate the transcription of an oncogene– lots of things can go ‘wrong’ for the host when retroviruses are involved. You all might remember a few years ago, the SCID patients who were successfully treated for their disease with retroviral gene therapy… only to succumb to leukemia a few years later.
With endogenous retroviruses, well, they obviously didnt insert into a really bad location, because you and me and everyone have these guys, and we are still doing okay. But they are still dangerous. If ERVs are left unchecked, free to make more viruses, the new guys they make could plop into a bad location and cause disease.
So its not just where a retrovirus inserts, but how our genome controls it after it inserts.
One way our genomes have evolved to control mobile DNA, like ERVs, is epigenetics. Its a way our genome can shut off genes it doesnt want expressed. Numerous studies have noticed that in cancers, there are little bits of ERVs hopping around! Sometimes they even make particles! Why? Cause when you have cancer, when you are on chemo, your epigenetic profiles are all messed up, and dead/mutated ERVs are allowed to ‘live’ again!
If you could give cancer patients drugs to help their epigenetic profiles get back into order, their ERVs will go silent again, and the chemo/radiation can do their job, killing the cancer, without ERVs bopping around the genome causing more cancer!
So heres the deal– Creationists like William Dembski insist that humans are specially created. ERVs do not exist, scientists are making it all up, whatever. Yet here I am, a graduate student, using evolution and ERVs to help treat cancer. There are hundreds, thousands more of us around the world, trying to figure out how to control ERVs to help treat everything from infertility to breast cancer to schizophrenia!