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Article 1 (Mar 2020): Meet the virus
March 27, 2020The world is packed with viruses. There are millions upon millions of viruses and billions upon billions of virus particles. Humans have known since 1900 that viruses can make us miserable. The word virus comes from a Latin word that can be translated ‘slimy poison’.
Viruses are not alive.
Vincent Racaniello, professor of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, writes in his virology blog that viruses are inanimate, complex organic matter.
They don't have energy and they don't have a metabolism. They cannot replicate or evolve by themselves. Instead, viruses are reproduced and evolve only within cells.
But they do infect every living thing, including people. They are in the human bloodstream and intestines at all times numbering in the millions.
In the oceans of the world, there are 10 to the 30th power viruses that infect bacteria -- or a million per teaspoon of seawater. There are so many of them, that if you put the infinitesimal virus particles end to end, they would reach 100 million light years into space. Whales in the oceans excrete millions of viruses and there is some evidence that these viruses can cross into humans. There are, in fact, more viruses in a liter of seawater than there are people on earth.
Every human on earth is infected with certain viruses. Viruses exist in either DNA or RNA. About 60% of the genetic sequences in human blood are viral. As you might expect, scientists believe all life actually needs some viruses.
U.S. Army doctor Major Walter Reed in 1901 led a team that confirmed the theory of a Cuban scientist Carlos Finlay. Finlay speculated that yellow fever was transmitted by a particular mosquito species. Reed proved Findlay was right and the first virus was identified.
If you are interested in the ubiquitous virus, check out Racaniello's 2018 lecture series on viruses, available on YouTube.
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