- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: UK General Books (Jan. 6 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0007315120
- ISBN-13: 978-0007315123
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 3 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 440 g
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #299,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Virolution Paperback – May 1 2011
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Viruses aren't always harmful Frank Ryan uses some beautiful examples to illustrate this idea. Worth reading. BBC Focus"
About the Author
Dr Frank Ryan is a consultant physician and the bestselling author of Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told.
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One of the more interesting subjects covered in the text shows that viruses have played a significant role in evolution. Large segments of viral genes have been found in human (and other) genome code fragments; viruses will co-evolve with their host under certain situations rather than destroy them. This co-evolution symbiosis has historically contributed to the selection process and enhanced the survival of both the host and viruses and added creative variation to the gene pool of all life forms. Part of our gene structure is due to viruses intrusion and subsequent symbiosis and are inheritable.
This book is a fascinating read but the material can be a rough read without a college level course in introductory biology or some medical training such as an RN, but a highly motivated or scientifically minded individual can understand what is being said. Well worth the read.
The "20th century" conception of evolution is (was): It's driven by random mutations and natural selection, and natural selection has the effect of making genes *appear* to be selfish. The last 50 years of research have shown that far from being random, these mutations are systematic, driven by processes like transposition, symbiogenesis and horizontal gene transfer.
Virolution adds the systematic behavior of viruses to the mix, showing how they then become symbiotic: That rather than a "host/parasite" relationship, and rather than being purely destructive, organisms use the viruses just as much as the viruses use the organisms. Ryan explains how major organelles (such as a component of the mammalian placenta) evolved in similar fashion - but separately, all of them co-opting code from viruses.
He shows how the assumption that endogenous retroviruses were so much evolutionary garbage, i.e. "Junk DNA", caused us to overlook major insights that have critical importance to the study of disease.
Virolution adds considerable heft to the theory of symbiogenesis, extending it to a whole new realm. I've read over 100 books on evolution and this one's on my top 10 list. My other faves include Shapiro's "Evolution: a View from the 21st Century," "Acquiring Genomes" by Margulis, "In the Beginning was Information" by Gitt, "The Great Evolution Mystery" by Taylor, "Information Theory, Evolution and the Origin of Life" by Yockey, "A Feeling for the Organism" by Keller, and "Altenberg 16" by Mazur.
This book is a major contribution and despite the cover, it doesn't even be deserved to be compared to Dawkins' selfish gene because frankly Dawkins is overrated, being neither as good of a scientist nor as intellectually honest as Ryan. This book illustrates the fact that unabashed, real-world biology is like the TV Series "24": You can never quite imagine what strange twist is coming around the next corner.
Here is a brief taste of some of the key ideas presented. There are four creative forces in evolution, creative in that they cause changes to genes or their expression:
1) Mutation (this is the only source of variability in what is currently called neo-Darwinism)
2) Genetic Symbiogenesis (symbiotic organisms co-evolve, including the transfer of pre-evolved genes from one genome to another)
3) Hybridogenesis (hybrids merge their genetic material)
4) Epigenetic (changes in gene expression not arising from the genome)
The latter three are new ideas that have only been accepted as plausible by the scientific community in the last two decades. We may be seeing a paradigm shift (see Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in progress. Epigenetics is not only a promising field for the treatment of diseases like cancer or MS, it raises the ghost of Lamarck in that it proposes that, sometimes, environmentally acquired changes can be inherited (see Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology)).
We can only hope that Dr. Ryan provides us with another such book every few years.