You know when professors say something thats really obvious, but they say it in such a way that suddenly the universe makes sense, and your head explodes?
I had one of those moments yesterday while listening to a professors presentation on a nifty herpes virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV is like EBV– pretty much everyone has been infected, but it doesnt hurt you unless youre immunocompromised).
Now in contrast to my elegant, streamlined retroviruses, herpes viruses are friggen monsterous. HIV-1 is about 10,000 base-pairs long (single stranded RNA), with nine genes, while CMV is 235,000 base-pairs long (double stranded DNA) with hundreds of genes. Both viruses have the same ultimate needs (basically, a ribosome from the host cell), but DNA viruses can afford to carry around lots of bells and whistles, including virally encoded mimics of our proteins.
One example would be CMVs ‘UL146‘– a viral protein that looks and acts exactly like one of our chemokines, CXCL1. Basically this mimic of CXCL1 turns an infected cell into a gingerbread house. All these nice, fresh, yummy immune cells trot right up the CXCL1 chemokine gradient to the infected cell, only to get infected themselves (ie, THE CAEK IS A LIE!!!).
That is so cool.
But this is when my head exploded:
Prof: Weve been co-evolving with these guys (herpes viruses) for millions of years. They know our immune system better than we do.
When we look at cells, they dont look like this. They dont look like a bright technicolor world of teeny machines chugging away. We dont ‘see’ shit. Thats why incredibly important facets of our inner biology can go undetected for years and years and years.. until someone says “Hey, wait a minute… ” and does the right experiments to ‘see’ what we cant literally see.
We are continually surprised when new molecular machinery, millions of years old, jumps out of the closet screaming “BOOOOO!!! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!”
But then we feel like idiots because viruses dont appear to be as shocked as we are… CMV using a sneaky chemokine is not ‘new’. It knew about the biochemistry of chemokines before we did. Hell, we only discovered chemokines because of viruses.
Just like we discovered tetherin because of viruses.
Viruses know us better than we know ourselves.
EARGGGGHHP! **head explodes again**