NatGeo had a pretty sweet program on the other night on viruses! I guess they made it like a couple years ago, but I somehow totally missed it!! If you read ERV, there was probably nothing new there for you, but its neat to *see* the scientists I talk about portrayed as creepy guys talking to themselves in deserted diners, surrounded by 3-inch-tall dancing chimpanzees.
National Geographic Explorer: The Virus Hunters
Few things I want to say–
- Scientists do not all work in poorly lit rooms surrounded by tubes of bubbling colored liquids. Sometimes there are lasers and radioactive spiders.
- Bacteria arent infected by hundreds of phages. Its not as impressive an animation, but viruses as a whole go to extreme lengths to ‘piss on the fire hydrant’– they do not want to share their host cell with other viruses.
- There are thousands and thousands and thousands of ERVs/retroviral elements in your genome. The vast, vast majority of them do nothing. A very small fraction of them are associated with disease, maybe only being disease markers and not actually causing/impacting that disease at all. The fact one ERV protein encoding gene, syncytin, and a handful of LTRs have been domesticated does not negate the fact that virtually all ERV/retroviral elements are crap.
- Ive mentioned this before in the comments of various posts, but just to put it up front– you can draw blood or cut up the brains of hunters in Africa and find all sorts of unique viruses. But actually being able to 1) get into humans, and then 2) transmit efficiently human–>human, and 3) that infection is actually really bad, is pretty damn rare. Hunters are infected with lots of stuff… but apparently most of it isnt a big deal. Thats one of the many reasons why ‘infecting’ macaques with a ridiculous amount of XMRV… with nothing happening, is not really a big deal. You can infect stuff, so what, dead end. The important information, the important thing scientists like Dr. Nathan Wolfe are looking for, are the ones that go beyond ‘infection’, and are actually being transmitted/causing diseases/etc. The conclusion from the XMRV ‘animal model’ was a big thumbs-down on those.
- The last part about the virus ‘changing’ the behavior of the rodents is a huge WTF. ‘Viruses’ have nothing to do with that. They used a virus as a gene delivery vector (aka gene therapy), but that wasnt a ‘natural’ effect of a ‘natural’ virus. That was a genetically modified virus designed with a specific effect in mind. There are no viruses out there that increase the number of vasopressin V1a receptors in your brain, just like there are no viruses out there that cure blind kids. Its using the virus as a tool, which is very different from a ‘vole virus’ ‘causing’ the ‘mating difference’, thus evolutionary split, between the voles.. If they explained that, I must have missed it.
Now youll have to excuse me. Theres a dinosaur wandering through my dark lab, and I dont want it to knock over my flasks of bubbling smoking red liquids.