I dont know why so many people bag on Pittsburgh.

Maybe people who grew up In The Big City dont like it, but to a country bumpkin like me, it is a magical city full of hot boys and glitter. *shrug*

Its also home to some of the best virology work in the country. Example:

Raw Sewage Harbors Diverse Viral Populations

One major point I want to get across to the general public through this blog is “Viruses are not always ‘bad guys’.”

Yes, of course, some viruses make us sick. And those are the ones we notice, obviously.

Long-time readers of ERV know that we can domesticate these ‘bad guys’. We can turn viruses that make us sick, into viruses that can treat diseases (both acquired and genetic).

But if we are only studying viruses that make us sick (or our crops, or our livestock, etc), when only a very small percentage of viruses do make us sick, we are missing out on being able to domesticate the vast, vast majority of viruses out there.

Think of it this way. Lets say you want to build a house. You look into your toolbox and pull out the most obvious tool, the one sitting on top, lets say a screwdriver. You then have to work REALLY HARD to build that house, because you have to adapt that screwdriver to perform all the functions you need.

You spend all of this mental energy and time trying to use a screwdriver to cut wood… but what if you had a table saw in that tool shed? You just didnt look.

You spend all of this mental energy and time trying to use a screwdriver as a hammer… but what if you had a hammer in that tool box? You just didnt look.

We are spending a lot of mental effort and energy turning viruses into creatures that can perform the functions we are interested in… but what if there are viruses out there that are better suited for the jobs we need accomplished? We just arent looking?

Papers like this demonstrate that we *should* be looking.

At this time, about 3,000 different viruses are recognized, but metagenomic studies suggest that these viruses are a small fraction of the viruses that exist in nature. We have explored viral diversity by deep sequencing nucleic acids obtained from virion populations enriched from raw sewage. We identified 234 known viruses, including 17 that infect humans. Plant, insect, and algal viruses as well as bacteriophages were also present. These viruses represented 26 taxonomic families and included viruses with single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), positive-sense ssRNA [ssRNA], and dsRNA genomes. Novel viruses that could be placed in specific taxa represented 51 different families, making untreated wastewater the most diverse viral metagenome (genetic material recovered directly from environmental samples) examined thus far. However, the vast majority of sequence reads bore little or no sequence relation to known viruses and thus could not be placed into specific taxa. These results show that the vast majority of the viruses on Earth have not yet been characterized. Untreated wastewater provides a rich matrix for identifying novel viruses and for studying virus diversity.

Look at all the amazing things we can do with a hammer, screwdriver, and table saw, and a wrench.

… What could we do with an entire Home Depot at our disposal?

Comments

  1. #1 daedalus2u
    October 7, 2011

    Don’t forget bacteria, and especially don’t forget autotrophic bacteria (the kind that don’t make you sick). Some of them are used to get the ammonia out of what comes from Uranus by oxidizing it to nitrite. Then it can be denitrified to nitrogen.

    Some of them can even restore the proper basal nitric oxide level, and we all know how important that is ;).

  2. #2 Connor
    October 7, 2011

    We have first got to write the home depot catalog. Years of work! :)

  3. #3 mary (abbie's ilk)
    October 7, 2011

    Even tho this sounds cool, I’m for anything that could make my life easier…but is it feasible?

    Problems would probably be instead of being used for good, someone would corrupt it into some woo type business,
    people are terrified of viruses..ie: contagion movie etc..and financially..someone would abuse this..ie: spend lots of gov’t money for studying..hmm lets say a lab contaniment.. of course, this is true for any science.. so why not..

  4. #4 TylerD
    October 7, 2011

    “I dont know why so many people bag on Pittsburgh.”

    Bandwagon Steelers fans.

  5. #5 Kevin
    October 7, 2011

    @ Mary – People are also terrified of bacteria, but diabetics don’t turn down human insulin produced in bacteria.

    Yeah, people will freak out for a little while, and there will be sensational headlines, but in the end people like cures for diseases, wherever they come from.

  6. #6 EvilYeti
    October 7, 2011

    I’m a fan of teh parasites as much as anyone, ERV, but ya gotta admit that they are a net loss for humanity.

    I mean, Naegleria fowleri crawls up your nose, eats your brain and turns you into a zombie. Toxoplasma gondii makes you a crazy cat lady. They are truly the apex predators. We are just walking real estate for them.

    Leeches perform a valuable medical service but we would still be better of without them. Or at least I would. I hates the filthy things.

  7. #7 steve
    October 7, 2011

    Call me collect but aren’t viruses that infect humans generally more useful because they infect humans?

  8. #8 EvilYeti
    October 7, 2011

    They don’t always start out that way.

    HIV was a monkey virus until it spread to humans via the the bushmeat trade. Or crazy monkey sex. Take your pick.

    The swine/avian flu out of Asia started out as a consequence of a bad habit Chinese farms have of mixing pigs and poultry. Apparently they aren’t Jewish. Or was that pork and dairy?

    Anyways, virii bounce amongst teh critters until one hits the evo jackpot and can infect a farmer. Pigs and humans are actually pretty similar genetically. We even taste similar!

    Next thing ya know, its a world-wide pandemic.

  9. #9 sylph
    October 8, 2011

    You’ve been to CSH, right? And thus NY, and you still consider Pittsburgh a “City”? Sorry, Abbie… even SF barely qualifies. Pittsburgh writes its own jokes.

  10. #10 MT
    October 8, 2011

    “I dont know why so many people bag on Pittsburgh.”

    Douchebag Steelers fans.

    FIFY, Tyler D.

    On a little more serious note, though, one problem with the study of viruses, or anything for that matter, in general as opposed to those that directly effect the human condition, is funding.

    With NIH being the cow delivering the mother’s milk of money, it’s damn hard not to concentrate your work on disease-causing viruses. That’s a shame, but that’s the way it works. And by shame, I just mean that it’s a shame other things don’t get studied, because as a use of taxpayer money I absolutely see why the system is set up as it is. Still, NSF getting more money to fund basic research would be great.

  11. #11 Garx
    October 9, 2011

    Young lady, I’m very concerned about you. With the language you use, how are you ever going to find a job when you graduate blah blah blah yada yada yada…

  12. #12 Tom
    October 9, 2011

    Ah yes ERV- The blogger who needs a psychiatrist and also some soap to wash out her mouth.

  13. #13 EvilYeti
    October 9, 2011

    Phone sex operators get paid more than post-docs, so I’m sure she’s just hedging her bets.

  14. #14 TylerD
    October 9, 2011

    @11 && 12

    >implying not samefag

  15. #15 Stevo
    October 10, 2011

    And it’s not like the whole virus has to be useful on its own (like your 4 examples). Maybe one of them has some cool protein that does something interesting. TEV for example is one of our go to tools in the toolbox.

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