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Hints of Life's Start Found In a Giant Virus

samzenpus posted about a month and a half ago | from the that's-a-big-one dept.

Science 158

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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which one is not like the other one? (0)

turkeydance (1266624) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428159)

science is simple like that.

Re:which one is not like the other one? (1)

azav (469988) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431129)

Ahhh, not so sure about that.

Well (-1, Redundant)

xevioso (598654) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428163)

I, for one, welcome our new virii overl...oh forget it, this meme is no longer funny.

Re:Well (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428317)

All your meme are belong to us!

Re:Well (3, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428793)

Your meme has already gone viral.

Re:Well (1)

azav (469988) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431249)

I'm offended by that, you insensitive clod.

Re:Well (1)

Dorianny (1847922) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428341)

I, for one, welcome our new virii overl...oh forget it, this meme is no longer funny.

Especially since the virii have been our overloads all along!

Re:Well (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430129)

I, for one, welcome our new virii overl...oh forget it, this meme is no longer funny.

Especially since the virii have been our overloads all along!

Speaking on behalf of many dead Romans, the proper plural for virus is "viruses". Latin's plural forms are much less simple than English ones.

But I'm fighting a losing pedantic battle here. The "virii" spelling went viral long ago.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428367)

On Dice's Slashdot, Memes laugh at YOU!

Re:Well (0)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428397)

Score: +1, Used to be funny

Re:Well (1)

rgmoore (133276) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428521)

oh forget it, this meme is no longer funny.

Nobody else around here lets that kind of thing stop them.

Re:Well (1)

Hartree (191324) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428893)

"Nobody else around here lets that kind of thing stop them."

He didn't let it stop him either.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428575)

"Virii" is not the correct plural of virus. see? [wikipedia.org] . Wikipedia is never wrong.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428961)

In Soviet Russia something something something.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428997)

virus overlords. Not virii. "Virii" is not Latin for viruses.

Re:Well (1)

creimer (824291) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429057)

If your new overlord was weird and pissed off, this story would have had a Kurt Russell ending.

Re:Well (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429079)

Well, I for one welcome our new meme overlords, and would like to remind them that as a /. poster with excellent karma, I can be helpful in modding up posts for their spreading into new sugar-powered minds.

Re:Well (5, Informative)

jandersen (462034) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429841)

I, for one, welcome our new virii overl...oh forget it, this meme is no longer funny.

Virii? Nitpicking, I know, but that particular abuse of the language makes me cringe, it really does, because it is so bizarrely and emphatically wrong on far too many levels.

Even if 'virus' had been the singular form of a latin word, the plural would not have been 'virii', with double 'i' at the end. 'Viri', possibly, but 'virii' would have to come from 'Virius', a personal name - check out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org]

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V... [wikipedia.org]

Finally, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V... [wikipedia.org] :

Etymology

The word is from the Latin virus referring to poison and other noxious substances, first used in English in 1392.[10] Virulent, from Latin virulentus (poisonous), dates to 1400.[11] A meaning of "agent that causes infectious disease" is first recorded in 1728,[10] before the discovery of viruses by Dmitri Ivanovsky in 1892. The English plural is viruses, whereas the Latin word is a mass noun, which has no classically attested plural. The adjective viral dates to 1948.[12] The term virion (plural virions), which dates from 1959,[13] is also used to refer to a single, stable infective viral particle that is released from the cell and is fully capable of infecting other cells of the same type.[14]

IMO, since 'virus' is a modernism - an old word used in a completely new way - it is reasonable to treat it grammatically as a modern word: one virus, multiple viruses, just like 'one bus, several buses' ('bus' from 'omnibus', but let's not go there). Apart from that, you would use a a nominative singular here: '... our virus overlords ...'

Re:Well (2, Informative)

ggrocca (1228552) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429995)

Mod parent up, he is spot on. The english plural is viruses and that's it.

The word virus has no attested plural form in latin. One could argue that if the word had a plural form, it would be "vira", though, since it's neutral.

http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/fa... [linuxmafia.com]

Re:Well (1)

splutty (43475) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430687)

This comment now stands moderated at 'Redundant'. Which is just about perfect. I wish there was a way to make sure it stays that way :)

(Yes, that was more or less a joke)

I, for one, welcome our new virii overlords (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428165)

That is all.

Try again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428851)

That is all. [wikipedia.org]

so, it turns out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428171)

Humans are a virus, or it is what disposed of the dinosaur.

Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (-1, Flamebait)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428197)

Lets hear the creationist explanation for this one :-)

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428215)

here ya go: It was so different from what we were taught about viruses.....

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429309)

...therefore, what we've been taught by priests for thousands of years must be the ultimate truth!

Re: Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428351)

I am creationist. While I had neither predicted nor expected this, I had imagined this and more. I had partially designed a form of free-living life not composed of cells as we know them but having essentially crystalline coating (design abandoned because I could not yet grasp how enzymes are self-controling by homeostasis and entropy pressure). With this discovered I feel vindicated.

Furthermore I had claimed that "made of cells " and "undergoes evolution" were artificial constraints that did not have to be there. I feel further vindicated.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (5, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428543)

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.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428675)

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

I know, hence why trying to use the religion view of creationism isn't realistic.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428813)

I'm not sure your sentence parses.

Are you saying creationism is not realistic or not realistic for a scientific understanding? I would agree with the later, there not enough information for the former.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (4, Informative)

youngone (975102) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429145)

You keep saying "We Know..." about something Jesus is purported to have said, or that "We know that God gave us free will..." as if these are facts. I don't know anything about any Gods at all, because I've never been given any evidence that any God exists. The Bible, or any other religious writing is just something written a long time ago (usually) by some religious people, so can't be counted as evidence for anything.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429193)

"...so can't be counted as evidence for anything."

The same can be said for any writing, on any topic, including, say, physics--no matter how vetted scientifically it may be. The first issue is validating the content of the book at hand, and if it passes that, then it absolutely would provide evidence as to the facts of reality.

Some would say that the persistent examples of prophecy fulfillment, absurdly improbable even after tossing out 99% of them for proposable reasons such as hypothetical "intentional fulfillment," or just tossing them out for no rational reason at all (as you just did wholesale), would still not alter this.

The specifics of the prophecies I won't state here, they are easily google-able and stating them in a non-abstract way would invoke and endless stream of me being trolled. So I'll simply point out your epistemological reasoning is wholly invalid and irrational.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430127)

"...so can't be counted as evidence for anything."

The same can be said for any writing, on any topic, including, say, physics--no matter how vetted scientifically it may be.

You can dismiss physics stuff as "something old people wrote long ago" - sure. But there is a difference. Physics does not demand that you believe. They say "if you find this dubious - put it to the test yourself! Maybe you get convinced then - or maybe you actually correct us on some points." Religions don't have this. You can of course claim to be a new prophet, but that usually splits the religion into those who follow you and those who don't. Often, one side is small and die out. Sometimes, a new sect forms.

Most of physics is easily tested by individuals or small groups. There are very few things that need cern-sized organizations.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47431151)

"Religions don't have this."

Oh, of course they do. They provide a definite means of testing. Asking the relevant entity. Have you tested it? That is doesn't have the same methodology as whatever goalpost-shifting criterion you will come up with to make sure to exclude it, actually doesn't matter at all.

If it makes the issue any clearer, though, try contrasting with a book on history specifically. Have you tested ancient Greek or Roman historian's claims, when their writings have been broadly accurate and plausible? 20'th century historians, for that matter? You've recreated history under lab conditions? In reality, the only differentiation there is between these and the bible is your bias.

"Physics does not demand that you believe."

Of course it does. You must give plausibility to all the Interpretations of QM, and you must for all practical purposes believe one of them to be true--that belief being utterly without proof or even any differentiating evidence.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47431541)

"The same can be said for any writing, on any topic, including, say, physics--no matter how vetted scientifically it may be. The first issue is validating the content of the book at hand, and if it passes that, then it absolutely would provide evidence as to the facts of reality."

Horseshit.

Physics (and math and biology and other hard sciences) make assertions regarding the way the world works ('hypotheses').
Hypotheses are by definition testable propositions.
If the evidence supports the hypothesis, great. If not, new hypothesis and more testing until there's a model that supports observed phenomena.

Goddidit is not a testable propositoin.
There's no way to frame a hypothesis that would test for a being that exists but is allegedly non-material, non-corporeal, and non-temporal. I mean, yes, platonic ideas exist, but we don't say that the platonic sphere actually has agency in the material world. The Goddidit argument basically asks us to suspend disbelieve because JEEBUS (or deity of choice). And there's no other way to frame a creationtard argument, because by definition creation is performed by non-temporal, non-corporeal, immaterial being who leaves no detectable traces of its existence.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429825)

Lol.. stop trying to be funny.

We do know that religion (some anyways) holds those principles to be true. The "we know" statemment was clearly qualified by "if we follow the religious examples". Your personal knowlegde of a god or validity of a religious doctrine is completely unimportant to the context. The context is of what people who do belive could understand- not whether they were accurate or not or even convincing.

Please follow along.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

crimson tsunami (3395179) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430597)

The context is of what people who do belive could understand

People who 'believe' in this context are incapable of understanding. They already have their opinion given to them from their beliefs.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431167)

You mean just like you? Seriously, thats the most short sided stupid thing anyone could have said given the context.

You do not get to ignore reality in order to impose your own.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430629)

You keep saying "We Know..." about something Jesus is purported to have said, or that "We know that God gave us free will..." as if these are facts. I don't know anything about any Gods at all, because I've never been given any evidence that any God exists. The Bible, or any other religious writing is just something written a long time ago (usually) by some religious people, so can't be counted as evidence for anything.

NOBODY expects the Atheist Inquisition!

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429213)

I think I'll need some clarification of your term "supernatural" here.

If I designed reality such that I had a universal "back door" to manipulate anything of a physical nature at will, and took the added step that my actions would be utterly untraceable due to an apparent, but unprovable, nature of persistent randomness within my "interface," precisely as I might do if I were as intelligent and capable as a god, and precisely as quantum physics actually is... would that "supernatural" for your discussion purposes?

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429797)

Yes and no. In the strict sense, there will be exceptions but yes, being able to act without regard to the laws of nature that the appearant world is bound by would qualify as supernatural.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429377)

Your username gives such credibility to your statements.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429535)

::ahem:: Translation: Blah blah blah. God did it, that's why. God can do anything. We don't need to understand why, but he gave us understanding so we could understand that we're not supposed to understand the knowdedge he allegedly gave us.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429805)

Evidently, God failed in giving you reading comprehension and you lack the ability to underdtand simple concepts. Your take on my statement is completely opposite of what was said.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (2)

marcello_dl (667940) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429827)

> It's just evidence that creation isn't needed to work.

Guys, we are discussing an hypothetical guy residing outside of, and creator of, TIME itself.
You, and all the others, make NO SENSE because you imagine creation IN TIME vs. evolution IN TIME, instead of creation OF Time, the universe, with all its peculiarities like emergent life vs. a patch to introduce life (which seems bad programming style itself, and probably not what the genesis and similar books meant, at all).

If you make a tiny effort and watch things from the POV of a hypothetical god who stands beyond the concept of time, there is no problem in creating a universe with free will agents and knowing how it's going to end up, or in creating an evolving universe that ends up exactly the way you do, or in creating a universe whose time extends indefinitely in both directions and so on.

Face it, creation and evolution are orthogonal issues, just as who and why are orthogonal questions. Those who prefer to pit science against religion, just founded the religion of science and I applaud them on their proliferation effort.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

Nevynxxx (932175) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430147)

But if a thing exists outside of time, it can't have actions, it can't have causal relations, it can't create. By definition, if it is outside of time, it cannot change, either itself or anything else, it has not ability for "then".

So how does it create time?

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430273)

Just a quick question - if God created everything, what/who created God? And please, no turtles all the way down.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431235)

Why is that ssme answer that is used to explain the mass for the explosion in the big bang not sufficient to explain a god's existance?

I'll go one better and give you an answer thst ypu cannot refute. We don't know.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431361)

There's a number of different hypotheses for how the big bang got started, but it's tricky to figure out the maths/effects so that we can figure out what fits all our available data. (You can't really explain the existence of a god as there's nothing to measure and no meaningful experiments that can be refuted).

If you don't know what created the creator and yet believe that she exists, then why do you need a creator?

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430571)

A little fix: God didn't give human knowledge. In fact, Adam took the knowledge by biting the apple. And God freaked out and banned Adam from Heaven.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431271)

No, God did give msn knowlege. Before Adam tasted the apple, God brought all the animals and stuff before him snd told him to name them. He had quite a bit of knowlege before the apple came into play.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428593)

Easy: God created this big virus this way.

Alternative possibilities include:

The deceiver created this one this way after the fact, to confuse us.
The scientists are wrong and have misclassified this discovery.
God continues to create the universe, using evolution as one tool of creation, and this virus is a remnant of that.
Spaghetti Monster don't care.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

CaptQuark (2706165) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429467)

Mod +1

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428733)

Satan created viruses to confuse Man about the origin of life, along with fossils, typesetting, and the ideal gas law. The combination of these makes a terrible sound and smell which often induces violent diarrhea that is nicknamed the Devil's Movement or Old Nick's Bowels.

This has been proven by the frequency at which virologists and paleontologists buy anti-diarrhea medication, often at ten times that of the general public. So if you see or smell something funny, it is surely the Devil's work trying to mislead you.

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

meglon (1001833) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428889)

Oh, i can do that for them: "poof, it's there, and God did it."

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428983)

God likes 'em big

Re:Yet another proof creation doesn't work! (1)

r_a_trip (612314) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430217)

Lets hear the creationist explanation for this one :-)

Satan put it in the ground to make us doubt God. (Or some other shit along those lines)

"How big was it?" (5, Funny)

cirby (2599) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428229)

"It was so big we had to sterilize our lab equipment with a hammer."

Re:"How big was it?" (1)

meglon (1001833) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428895)

Pfft. Ours was so big... well... does the phrase "take off and nuke it from orbit" mean anything to you?

Re:"How big was it?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430187)

"It was so big we had to sterilize our lab equipment with a hammer."

We must do what they did in the 54th episode of Star Trek - Voyager: Macrocosm [wikipedia.org]

What is life? What is a virus? (4, Insightful)

aeschinesthesocratic (1359449) | about a month and a half ago | (#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?

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428313)

It can't reproduce entirely on it's own, so it's not 'free living'. It does need a host. It's just it doesn't need the host for some of the tasks that most viruses need the host for.

It would seem that, instead of being a primitive form that was at the base of the the genetic tree, it's more likely to be an offshoot. It hijacked some additional molecular machinery from an extant organism rather that figuring it out on it's own.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

aeschinesthesocratic (1359449) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428375)

Doesn't this then lead us to a bootstrapping issue?

If life started with a giant virus, and viruses reproduce by infecting living creatures... wence life?

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428437)

Doesn't this then lead us to a bootstrapping issue?

If life started with a giant virus, and viruses reproduce by infecting living creatures... wence life?

God did it.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428807)

Did you not read the post you responded to? The possibility he suggests is that the giant virus came later, not earlier, as a previous, more "ordinary" virus carried along some of the host cell's replication machinery upon departing the host cell. A similar theory is proposed for the origin of eukaryotic cells:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eukaryote#Hypotheses_for_the_origin_of_eukaryotes

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429643)

Life started due to a discarded sandwich by a distracted timetraveler.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428385)

Oh, now I went ahead and read TFA. It's all complicated and confusing.

The current thinking is indeed that viruses are an offshoot of 'modern' life (modern being sometime after the archea). These critters, because they contain gene sequences that seem to predate the prokaryote - eukaryote split and because we know that bacteria just love to transfer genetic information 'horizontally' - that is by tossing bits of DNA and RNA around so some unrelated organism can incorporate it into their genetic apparatus as opposed to simply eating it - that it may be that these big viruses started sometime after the RNA hypothesis took hold and created the first self replicating organisms. Or at least helped those first 'organisms' diverge and multiply.

At least it's a testable hypothesis. Once you have sequenced a number of the big virus genes and compare them you would presumably get an idea how old they are.

It would seem that even if this mechanism held, the critters would have had a long time to morph into another ecological niche so it would be hard to pin down what their function was (if any) at the beginning of life. But perhaps the Central Dogma is barking up the wrong tree after all.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430925)

It can't reproduce entirely on it's own
 
Neither can any mammal.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (5, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | about a month and a half ago | (#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.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

rgmoore (133276) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428611)

Everything is a continuum.

That is an exaggeration. Things grow as a continuum, but they can get separated when the parts in the middle die off. You wind up with a branched structure because things really can get far enough separated that when the middle dies off they can't reconnect. For example, mammals really are distinct from other tetrapods because the forms that connected them died off and they've been developing in different directions ever since.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428943)

That works reasonably well for most animals (though not always---ring species throw a wrinkle into things, as do sterile hybrids and geographically distinct yet genetically indistinguishable populations), but plants are quite promiscuous and single celled organisms even more so. Moreover, you claim that it is easy to separate mammals from other classes, but it seems that you are falling into exactly the trap the GP suggested---you are choosing a particular scale for classification, and drawing an arbitrary line there.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429491)

Moreover, you claim that it is easy to separate mammals from other classes, but it seems that you are falling into exactly the trap the GP suggested---you are choosing a particular scale for classification, and drawing an arbitrary line there.

God, I have heard of the lumper/splitter debate before, but this is absurd. Your position is indefensible: if you are such a "species nihilist" that you claim there are only arbitrary differences/classifications/semantic distinctions between, say, a chemotropic prokayrote and a modern human, then there's no point in discoursing with you at all.

More succinctly, your position devolves to the idea that all life is one "continuum species" (or whatever equivalent term you would choose to use).

This is only true in the most tortured logic, abstract sense and if you honestly believe this is a practical viewpoint then please get back to your bong-hit philosophical musings elsewhere and leave science to the scientists.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

Dan East (318230) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428925)

Everything is a continuum. Humans divide the continuum up using acts of selective attention

Your generalization is quite wrong. Humans classify organisms based on the evidence in front of them. Can you show me this continuum between a platypus and some other animal? How does that fit into the "everything is a continuum" that you speak of?

"Species" do not have particularly crisp boundaries in the general case:

Uh, they most certainly have extremely crisp boundaries. Species are classified by the ability of two organisms to breed with one another. There isn't any "crisper" boundary than that. Once two lineages are different enough, it is no longer possible for them to reproduce sexually with one another. That is a quantum leap, a boolean yes or no situation (at least in 99.9% of the cases). Humans have nothing to do with defining that boundary. It is merely what we have observed and appropriately classified.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (5, Informative)

psnyder (1326089) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429115)

Uh, they most certainly have extremely crisp boundaries. Species are classified by the ability of two organisms to breed with one another.

The "Species problem" [wikipedia.org] shows this not to be the case. The specific issue you mention is in the introduction:

"Another common problem is how to define reproductive isolation, because some separately evolving groups may continue to interbreed to some extent, and it can be a difficult matter to discover whether this hybridization [wikipedia.org] affects the long-term genetic make-up of the groups."

That being said, I was taught the same way as you and only learned differently when I started teaching it myself. Now when I explain classification, I try to intersperse phrases like "usually classified as..." or "One good way to classify it is...". I usually try to reinforce that there are many ways to classify, show them the most common way(s), and encourage them to make their own classifications if those ways fail. This is especially prevalent in biology where phylogenetics [wikipedia.org] (usually based on RNA, dividing groups into clades) is currently intermixing with more traditional taxonomy [wikipedia.org] (usually based on morphological traits, dividing groups into Linnaean classification)[1] [wikipedia.org] .

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429775)

platys and swordtails are different species and they interbreed without any hassle.

Re: What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429999)

Do they produce viable offspring?

Re: What is life? What is a virus? (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430501)

very much so. and not only that, the hybrids are also fertile. same for endler's livebearers and guppies and sailfin x yucatan mollies. molly and guppy can also interbreed, although it doesn't happen that readily and the offspring is sterile.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430625)

Species are classified by the ability of two organisms to breed with one another. There isn't any "crisper" boundary than that. Once two lineages are different enough, it is no longer possible for them to reproduce sexually with one another. That is a quantum leap, a boolean yes or no situation (at least in 99.9% of the cases). Humans have nothing to do with defining that boundary. It is merely what we have observed and appropriately classified.

Read up on ring species [wikipedia.org] and prepare to have your mind blown.

Mules are the quintessential example of two species being close enough to produce offspring but distinct enough that the offspring is never fertile. However, fertile mules have been found [wikipedia.org] . So are horses and donkeys two separate species or not?

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

ggrocca (1228552) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431003)

Didn't know about ring species. My mind was definitely blown. It is practically genetic drift and evolution happening on a spatial scale instead of a temporal one, complete with final proof of the fact where the "ring" closes. If this does not prove evolution at the macro scale I don't know what could.

Wish I had mod points. Anonymous comments sometimes rocks.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430859)

Consider the continuum as it extends over time and space. Everything is and/or was a continuum, but occasionally holes and tears in the continuum occur that cause the appearance of hard distinctions between species.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (2)

lazy genes (741633) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428333)

Great questions, I have come to believe that a virus is not a life form. Its only role is to transfer segments of DNA from one life form to another. It is how information is sent without individual contact.Is very important part of evolution because it saves time.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428355)

psst. Read the article.

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428361)

There are many differences between viruses and prokaryotes, but the main thing that seperates them from life is that they don't have ribosomes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribosome). Ribosomes are necessary for the production of proteins and no known virus encodes thier own ribosomes (they use the ones from their host cell). Some viruses, such as the one mentioned in the link, do encode genes to make some tRNA (needed for translating the genetic code into protein).

Re:What is life? What is a virus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429559)

Protip: The current definitons of life are all wrong. Cells do not create water. Thus they are no different than viruses. Computer programs don't create their universes either. Life is any sufficiently complex interaction (as distinguished from noise) that propagates itself. The most moronic thing is the universe is to believe there is a binary "alive" or "not alive" distinction, or an "intelligent" or "not intelligent" distinction. No. There is a gradient to complexity, and thus there is a greadient to life, and to intelligence: There are minimal degrees of complexity that can yield certain "intelligent" behaviors, such as steering a neuron mesh towards a target -- It takes a handfull of neurons worth of complexity both in jellyfish and in cybernetic simulations.

Consider a computer powerful enough to simulate a few cells at the mollecular level. They are every bit as alive as any other cell. Life did not create its universe.

Bait and switch headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428299)

So, uh, what were these hints?

Nuke It From Orbit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428305)

It's the only way to be sure

Or not [wikipedia.org] .

This virus has been around for so long that (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428371)

the others call him Morris Worm.

I for one... (0)

bragr (1612015) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428573)

I for one welcome our new viral overlords.

Humans and their need to classify (1)

istartedi (132515) | about a month and a half ago | (#47428623)

Maybe at some point we'll regard this thing as being on a continuum from mis-folded proteins to intelligent life such as whales. In the meantime, people will argue about whether or not it's really a virus.

Re:Humans and their need to classify (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429019)

This is exactly right. Just as there is no specific "human" - we find out that we are made from denisovans, neanderthals, etc. That every haplogroup is unique in many ways, and that we are a continuum of intelligence, ancestry, disease resistance, etc.

Of course, this virus vs. bacteria debate is right in line with the "humans are all the same" thinking. Classify classify.

For God's sake, (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47428795)

Don't thaw it out! I've seen the the BLOB movie, I know how this turns out...

30,000 years? (4, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429015)

The sample being 30,000 years old doesn't seem significant because it's quite recent relative to the history of life, and even primates. The same kind of virus or a close relative is probably still around and the sample age probably has nothing to do with its size, but rather a happenstance of observation in that we tend to study old things harder than we do current things, and thus notice more.

A very novel novel (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429479)

"Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie were used to finding strange viruses..."

Is this the modern version of, "It was a dark and stormy night..." ?

Re:A very novel novel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47430131)

"... until they discovered condoms"?

Article not written by nerds (1)

fj4 (940372) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429481)

OK, so I actually RTFA.

They immediately recognized the organism’s viruslike shape — imagine a 20-sided die, with each face a hexagon

I'm having a hard time fitting together 20 hexagonal faces. OTOH, the herpes virus is shaped like a regular icosahedron.

Re:Article not written by nerds (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | about a month and a half ago | (#47430891)

Truncated icosahedron, maybe?

Incredible Photograph (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month and a half ago | (#47429555)

Astounded at the hairy beard-like structures, a shiny bald pate-like structure in the dorsal region and the astonishing presence of a purple-and-white T-shirt on the virus, I shortly thereafter realized I wasn't looking at a picture of the virus but of it's discoverer, Eugene Koonin.

Somebody give that guy a razor blade.

Origin of life? (1)

jandersen (462034) | about a month and a half ago | (#47429873)

I think the summary rather overstates the case. This virus, if a virus it is, doesn't so much hint at the origins of life as it puts a new perspective on the origins of viruses. The origin of life probably lies much further back in time than the emergence of viruses, certainly if viruses are 'degenerated' life-forms, evolved from cellular life.

Seen in this light, this new virus could be a primitive virus; but it rather begs the question whether 'virus' is actually a well-defined, mono-phyletic group. It seems quite reasonable to think that viruses have evolved many times during evolution. Firstly, although life is said to have begun when certain things came together and formed cells, there must have been a period when life or proto-life was more like a diffuse soup of components that would be part of cellular life, and while some of these combined to become cells, others may have become viruses. They may have evolved again at a slightly later stage from plasmids, pieces of genetic material that move between cells (or plasmids may have evolved as an extreme form of viruses, who knows?), and they may have arisen once more from bacteria or similar.

reproduction & metabolism evolved separately? (1)

peter303 (12292) | about a month and a half ago | (#47431347)

Then merged to become life as we know it. This is a hypothesis proposed by some science scientists like Robert Hazen.
Although we dont see pre-life metabolic fossils, some viruses could be pre-life reproductive fossils.
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