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Hints of Life's Start Found In a Giant Virus 158

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-a-big-one dept.
An anonymous reader points out this update on the world's largest virus, discovered in March. Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie were used to finding strange viruses. The married virologists at Aix-Marseille University had made a career of it. But pithovirus, which they discovered in 2013 in a sample of Siberian dirt that had been frozen for more than 30,000 years, was more bizarre than the pair had ever imagined a virus could be. In the world of microbes, viruses are small — notoriously small. Pithovirus is not. The largest virus ever discovered, pithovirus is more massive than even some bacteria. Most viruses copy themselves by hijacking their host's molecular machinery. But pithovirus is much more independent, possessing some replication machinery of its own. Pithovirus's relatively large number of genes also differentiated it from other viruses, which are often genetically simple — the smallest have a mere four genes. Pithovirus has around 500 genes, and some are used for complex tasks such as making proteins and repairing and replicating DNA. "It was so different from what we were taught about viruses," Abergel said. The stunning find, first revealed in March, isn't just expanding scientists' notions of what a virus can be. It is reframing the debate over the origins of life."
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Hints of Life's Start Found In a Giant Virus

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  • by aeschinesthesocratic (1359449) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @07:57PM (#47428279)
    How do viruses reproduce without complex lifeforms in which to do so? If it reproduces on its own, I don't think pithovirus can be classified as a virus. Then, in that case, what separates pithovius from the prokaryotes?
  • by radtea (464814) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @08:09PM (#47428331)

    Then, in that case, what separates pithovius from the prokaryotes?

    Structure, from the sound of it, although mostly this is people committing various fallacies of reification and making false claims of "natural kinds".

    Everything is a continuum. Humans divide the continuum up using acts of selective attention. The only infinitely sharp edge is the edge of our attention (because we scale the edge to match the scale we are attending to, so whatever scale we are attending to seems to have a sharp division between the things we are selecting out.)

    "Species" do not have particularly crisp boundaries in the general case: they fade into each other, and we draw edges around them in more-or-less arbitrary ways. When we find new varieties we can either create new categories (by drawing new edges) or lump them into old categories (by moving old edges). Which move is to be preferred depends on the purposes of the knowing subject.

  • by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @08:54PM (#47428543) Journal

    Why does there need to be a creationist explanation?

    Do you really understand what creation means? It means something was created and in the case of religious creation, everything was. Why was it created? It's hard to say but nothing here is proof that creation doesn't work. It's just evidence that creation isn't needed to work. It's like a car, you can use a key to start it but you can also hot wire it and start without a key. That doesn't mean the key no longer works- it just may no longer be necessary to work in order to start the car.

    In fact, if you follow the religious examples (creationist), god gave man dominion over his creations. He also gave him knowledge. And we know in the new testament, that Jesus says God is still working and so was he. So in essence, you would search and find an understanding that didn't require the need for a God to create anything in order to understand it and have dominion (rule) over it. We also know that God gave us free will and you will either go to God or reject him/her. Nothing prevents anything from being created when a being is above the laws of nature that we are bound by and understand, including our understanding of those creations which may be by design of the creation.

    Expecting a supernatural explanation for natural events and understandings is not very scientific.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen