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Viral Fossil Brought Back To Life

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the what-could-go-wrong dept.


hey hey hey writes "In a controversial study, researchers have resurrected a retrovirus that infected our ancestors millions of years ago and now sits frozen in the human genome. Published online by Genome Research this week, the study may shed new light on the history of these genomic intruders, as well as their role in tumors. Although this particular virus, dubbed Phoenix, is a wimpy one, some argue that resuscitating any ancient virus is inherently risky and that the study should have undergone stricter reviews."

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Hmmm... (1)

GammaKitsune (826576) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683127)

Wasn't this the plot of one of the Final Fantasy games?

not sure... (3, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683365)

Wasn't this the plot of one of the Final Fantasy games?

I'm not sure, but I'm sure Mohinder Suresh would be interested in this information.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

trytoguess (875793) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683861)

You may be talking about Final Fantasy 7 where a viral creature called Jenova got frozen in a glacier, was later discovered by humans, and eventually used to "enhance" soldiers. This allowing the main boss to have limited control over them (or the cells controlled Sephiroth, fans argue over this). Course, the cells were simply dormant, not ressurected.

Andromeda strain (3, Insightful)

zeroharmada (1004484) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683129)

need I say more

Re:Andromeda strain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683501)

Except that the andromeda strain was alien not ancient

Re:Andromeda strain (1)

cloricus (691063) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683589)

Mmm nothing ghastly. I'd say that if they beat it back then we'd own it these days as our immune systems are rather advanced in comparison.

Re:Andromeda strain (1)

modecx (130548) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683717)

Mmm nothing ghastly. I'd say that if they beat it back then we'd own it these days as our immune systems are rather advanced in comparison.

I'd reckon that we didn't beat it back then either, if it's in our DNA.

Re:Andromeda strain (1)

cloricus (691063) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683839)

Depends on how you define beat; we beat chickenpox by making sure every child had it so it was rare that it mutated into the worse form later in life.

Re:Andromeda strain (1)

modecx (130548) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683991)

Depends on how you define beat; we beat chickenpox by making sure every child had it so it was rare that it mutated into the worse form later in life.

Well, I look at it this way: some retrovirus one of our ancestors picked up a million years ago, but didn't kill him, could still be causing things like diabetes, arthritis, MS, various cancers, or any number of things, all without secondary infections.

On the other hand, chicken pox sticks around in the body, but it doesn't become part of our genome... And it's thought that chicken pox reactivation (shingles, which still affects a lot of people) is sometimes caused because the immune system 'forgets' the chicken pox virus because there aren't kids with chicken pox trying to infect adults, which means that we still haven't beat chicken pox, in the sense that it's still around haunting millions of us, like all the other herpes viruses, but that we have beat it in the sense that few people die from it nowadays.

Wonderful (1)

BIGELLOW (970109) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683145)

Next, scientists (out of sheer curiosity) will see what happens when a black hole is created at the very center of Earth. After all, the theory behind gravity itself is that the gravitational pull is infinite at the center of gravity. So, even something as powerful as a black hole coexisting at the center of Earth should only make a minimal impact, right? Right?

Way ahead of you (3, Funny)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683345)

Creating black holes for kicks? That's what they are about to do in 2008 using the Large Hadron Collider [wikipedia.org] .

As a side note, tonight I am sleeping on the couch: got busted typoing a Google image search for 'Large Hadron Collider.'

Re:Way ahead of you (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683587)

I'm reminded of this short story.


        One day Mars will be gone.

        Andrew Lear says that it will start with violent quakes, and end hours or days later, very suddenly. He ought to know. It's all his fault.

        Lear also says that it won't happen for from years to centuries. So we stay, Lear and the rest of us. We study the alien base for what it can tell us, while the center of the world we stand on is slowly eaten away. It's enough to give a man nightmares.

        It was Lear who found the alien base.

        We had reached Mars: fourteen of us, in the cramped bulbous life-support system of the Percival Lowell. We were circling in orbit, taking our time, correcting our maps and looking for anything that thirty years of Mariner probes might have missed.

        We were mapping mascons, among other things. Those mass concentrations under the lunar maria were almost certainly left by good-sized asteroids, mountains of rock falling silently out of the sky until they struck with the energies of thousands of fusion bombs. Mars has been cruising through the asteroid belt for four billion years. Mars would show bigger and better mascons. They would affect our orbits.

        So Andrew Lear was hard at work, watching pens twitch on graph paper as we circled Mars. A bit of machinery fell alongside the Percival Lowell, rotating. Within its thin shell was a weighted double lever system, deceptively simple: a Forward Mass Detector. The pens mapped its twitchings.

        Over Sirbonis Palus, they began mapping strange curves.

        Another man might have cursed and tried to fix it. Andrew Lear thought it out, then sent the signal that would stop the free-falling widget from rotating.

        It had to be rotating to map a stationary mass.

        But now it was mapping simple sine waves.

        Lear went running to Captain Childrey.

        Running? It was more like trapeze artistry. Lear pulled himself along by handholds, kicked off from walls, braked with a hard push of hands or feet. Moving in free fall is hard work when you're in a hurry, and Lear was a forty-year-old astrophysicist, not an athlete. He was blowing hard when he reached the control bubble.

        Childrey--who was an athlete--waited with a patient, slightly contemptuous smile while Lear caught his breath.

        He already thought Lear was crazy. Lear's words only confirmed it. 'Gravity for sending signals? Dr. Lear, will you please quit bothering me with your weird ideas. I'm busy. We all are.'

        This was not entirely unfair. Some of Lear's enthusiasms were peculiar. Gravity generators. Black holes. He thought we should be searching for Dyson spheres:

stars completely enclosed by an artificial shell. He believed that mass and inertia were two separate things: that it should be possible to suck the inertia Out of a spacecraft, say, so that it could accelerate to near lightspeed in a few minutes. He was a wide-eyed dreamer, and when he was flustered he tended to wander from the point.

        'You don't understand,' he told Childrey. 'Gravity radiation is harder to block than electromagnetic waves. Patterned gravity waves would be easy to detect. The advanced civilizations in the galaxy may all be communicating by gravity. Some of them may even be modulating pulsars--rotating neutron stars. That's where Project

Ozma went wrong: they were only looking for signals in the electromagnetic spectrum.'

        Childrey laughed. 'Sure. Your little friends are using neutron stars to send you messages. What's that got to do with us?'

        'Well, look!' Lear held up the strip of flimsy, nearly weightless paper he'd torn from the machine. 'I got this over Sirbonis Palus. I think we ought to land there.'

        'We're landing in Mare Cimmerium, as you perfectly well know. The lander is already deployed and ready to board. Dr. Lear, we've spent four days mapping this area. It's flat. It's in a green-brown area. When spring comes next month, we'll find out whether there's life there! And everybody wants it that way except you!'

        Lear was still holding the graph paper before him like a shield. 'Please. Take one more circuit over Sirbonis Palus.'

        Childrey opted for the extra orbit. Maybe the sine waves convinced him. Maybe not. He would have liked inconveniencing the rest of us in Lear's name, to show him for a fool.

        But the next pass showed a tiny circular feature in Sirbonis Palus. And Lear's mass indicator was making sine waves again.

The aliens had gone. During our first few months we always expected them back any minute. The machinery in the base was running smoothly and perfectly, as if the owners had only just stepped out.

        The base was an inverted pie plate two stories high, and windowless, The air inside was breathable, like Earth's air three miles up, but with a bit more oxygen. Mars's air is far thinner, and poisonous. Clearly they were not of Mars.

        The walls were thick and deeply eroded. They leaned inward against the internal pressure. The roof was somewhat thinner, just heavy enough for the pressure to support it. Both walls and roof were of fused Martian dust.

        The heating system still worked--and it was also the lighting system: grids in the ceiling glowing brick red. The base was always ten degrees too warm. We didn't find the off switches for almost a week: they were behind locked panels. The air system blew gusty winds through the base until we fiddled with the fans.

        We could guess a lot about them from what they'd left behind. They must have come from a world smaller than Earth, circling a red dwarf star in close orbit. To be close enough to be warm enough, the planet would have to be locked in by tides, turning one face always to its star. The aliens must have evolved on the lighted side, in a permanent red day, with winds constantly howling over the border from the night side.

        And they had no sense of privacy. The only doorways that had doors in them were airlocks. The second floor was a hexagonal metal gridwork. It would not block you off from your friends on the floor below. The bunk room was an impressive expanse of mercury-filled waterbed, wall to wall. The rooms were too small and cluttered, the furniture and machinery too close to the doorways, so that at first we were constantly bumping elbows and knees. The ceilings were an inch short of six feet high on both floors, so that we tended to walk stooped even if we were short enough to stand upright. Habit. But Lear was just tall enough to knock his head if he stood up fast, anywhere in the base.

        We thought they must have been smaller than human. But their padded benches seemed human-designed in size and shape. Maybe it was their minds that were different: they didn't need psychic elbow room.

        The ship had been bad enough. Now this. Within the base was instant claustrophobia. It put all of our tempers on hair triggers.

        Two of us couldn't take it.

Lear and Childrey did not belong on the same planet.

        With Childrey, neatness was a compulsion. He had enough for all of us. During those long months aboard Percival Lowell, it was Childrey who led us in calisthenics. He flatly would not let anyone skip an exercise period. We eventually gave up trying.

        Well and good. The exercise kept us alive. We weren't getting the healthy daily exercise anyone gets walking around the living room in a one-gravity field.

        But after a month on Mars, Childrey was the only man who still appeared fully dressed in the heat of the alien base. Some of us took it as a reproof, and maybe it was, because Lear had been the first to doff his shirt for keeps. In the mess Childrey would inspect his silverware for water spots, then line it up perfectly parallel.

        On Earth, Andrew Lear's habits would have been no more than a character trait. In a hurry, he might choose mismatched socks. He might put off using the dishwasher for a day or two if he were involved in something interesting. He would prefer a house that looked 'lived in.' God help the maid who tried to clean up his study. He'd never be able to find anything afterward.

        He was a brilliant but one-sided man. Backpacking or skin diving might have changed his habits--in such pursuits you learn not to forget any least trivial thing-- but they would never have tempted him. An expedition to Mars was something he simply could not turn down. A pity, because neatness is worth your life in space.

        You don't leave your fly open in a pressure suit.

        A month after the landing, Childrey caught Lear doing just that.

        The 'fly' on a pressure suit is a soft rubber tube over your male member. It leads to a bladder, and there's a spring clamp on it. You open the clamp to use it. Then you close the clamp and open an outside spigot to evacuate the bladder into vacuum.

        Similar designs for women involve a catheter, which is hideously uncomfortable. I presume the designers will keep trying. It seems wrong to bar half the human race from our ultimate destiny.

        Lear was addicted to long walks. He loved the Martian desert scene: the hard violet sky and the soft blur of whirling orange dust, the sharp close horizon, the endless emptiness. More: he needed the room. He was spending all his working time on the alien communicator, with the ceiling too close over his head and everything else too close to his bony elbows.

        He was coming back from a walk, and he met Childrey coming out. Childrey noticed that the waste spigot on Lear's suit was open, the spring broken. Lear had been out for hours. If he'd had to go, he might have bled to death through flesh ruptured by vacuum.

        We never learned all that Childrey said to him out there. But Lear came in very red about the ears, muttering under his breath. He wouldn't talk to anyone.

        The NASA psychologists should not have put them both on that small a planet. Hindsight is wonderful, right? But Lear and Childrey were each the best choice for competence coupled to the kind of health they would need to survive the trip. There were astrophysicists as competent and as famous as Lear, but they were decades older. And Childrey had a thousand spaceflight hours to his credit. He had been one of the last men on the moon.

        Individually, each of us was the best possible man. It was a damn shame.

The aliens had left the communicator going, like everything else in the base. It must have been hellishly massive, to judge by the thick support pillars slanting outward beneath it. It was a bulky tank of a thing, big enough that the roof had

to bulge slightly to give it room. That gave Lear about a square meter of the only head room in the base.

        Even Lear had no idea why they'd put it on the second floor. It would send through the first floor, or through the bulk of a planet. Lear learned that by trying it, once he knew enough. He beamed a dot-dash message through Mars itself to the Forward Mass Detector aboard Lowell.

        Lear had set up a Mass Detector next to the communicator, on an extremely complex platform designed to protect it from vibration. The Detector produced waves so sharply pointed that some of us thought they could feel the gravity radiation coming from the communicator.

        Lear was in love with the thing.

        He skipped meals. When he ate he ate like a starved wolf. 'There's a heavy point-mass in there,' he told us, talking around a mouthful of food, two months after the landing. 'The machine uses electromagnetic fields to vibrate it at high speed. Look--' He picked up a toothpaste tube of tuna spread and held it in front of him. He vibrated it rapidly. Heads turned to watch him around the zigzagged communal table in the alien mess. 'I'm making gravity waves now. But they're too mushy because the tube's too big, and their amplitude is virtually zero. There's something very dense and massive in that machine, and it takes a hell of a lot of field strength to keep it there.'

        'What is it?' someone asked. 'Neutronium? Like the heart of a neutron star?'

        Lear shook his head and took another mouthful. 'That size, neutronium wouldn't be stable. I think it's a quantum black hole. I don't know how to measure its mass yet.'

        I said, 'A quantum black hole?'

        Lear nodded happily. 'Luck for me. You know, I was against the Mars expedition. We could get a lot more for our money by exploring the asteroids. Among other things, we might have found if there are really quantum black holes out there. But this one's already captured!' He stood up, being careful of his head. He turned in his tray and went back to work.

        I remember we stared at each other along the zigzag mess table. Then we drew lots . . . and I lost.

The day Lear left his waste spigot open, Childrey had put a restriction on him. Lear was not to leave the base without an escort.

        Lear had treasured the aloneness of those walks. But it was worse than that. Childrey had given him a list of possible escorts: half a dozen men Childrey could trust to see to it that Lear did nothing dangerous to himself or others. Inevitably they were the men most thoroughly trained in space survival routines, most addicted to Childrey's own compulsive neatness, least likely to sympathize with Lear's way of living. Lear was as likely to ask Childrey himself to go walking with him.

        He almost never went out any more. I knew exactly where to find him.

        I stood beneath him, looking up through the gridwork floor.

        He'd almost finished dismantling the protective panels around the gravity communicator. What showed inside looked like parts of a computer in one spot, electromagnetic coils in most places, and a square array of pushbuttons that might have been the aliens' idea of a typewriter. Lear was using a magnetic induction sensor to try to trace wiring without actually tearing off the insulation.

        I called, 'How you making out?'

        'No good,' he said. 'The insulation seems to be one hundred per cent perfect. Now I'm afraid to open it up. No telling how much power is running through

there, if it needs shielding that good.' He smiled down at me. 'Let me show you something.'


        He flipped a toggle above a dull gray circular plate. 'This thing is a microphone. It took me a while to find it. I am Andrew Lear, speaking to whoever may be listening.' He switched it off, then ripped paper from the Mass Indicator and showed me squiggles interrupting smooth sine waves. 'There. The sound of my voice in gravity radiation. It won't disappear until it's reached the edges of the universe.'

        'Lear, you mentioned quantum black holes there. What's a quantum black hole?'

        'Um. You know what a black hole is.'

        'I ought to.' Lear had educated us on the subject, at length, during the months aboard Lowell.

        When a not too massive star has used up its nuclear fuel, it collapses into a white dwarf. A heavier star--say, 1.44 times the mass of the sun and larger--can burn out its fuel, then collapse into itself until it is ten kilometers across and composed solely of neutrons packed edge to edge: the densest matter in this universe.

        But a big star goes further than that. When a really massive star runs its course

        when the radiation pressure within is no longer strong enough to hold the outer layers against the star's own ferocious gravity . . . then it can fall into itself entirely, until gravity is stronger than any other force, until it is compressed past the Schwarzchild radius and effectively leaves the universe. What happens to it then is problematical. The Schwarzchild radius is the boundary beyond which nothing can climb out of the gravity well, not even light.

        The star is gone then, but the mass remains: a lightless hole in space, perhaps a hole into another universe.

        'A collapsing star can leave a black hole,' said Lear. 'There may be bigger black holes, whole galaxies that have fallen into themselves. But there's no other way a black hole can form, now.'


        'There was a time when black holes of all sizes could form. That was during the Big Bang, the explosion that started the expanding universe. The forces in that blast could have compressed little local vortices of matter past the Schwarzchild radius. What that left behind--the smallest ones, anyway--we call quantum black holes.'

        I heard a distinctive laugh behind me as Captain Childrey walked into view. The bulk of the communicator would have hidden him from Lear, and I hadn't heard him come up. He called, 'Just how big a thing are you talking about? Could I pick one up and throw it at you?'

        'You'd disappear into one that size,' Lear said seriously. 'A black hole the mass of the Earth would only be a centimeter across. No, I'm talking about things from tento-the-minus-fifth grams on up. There could be one at the center of the sun--'


        Lear was trying. He didn't like being kidded, but he didn't know how to stop it. Keeping it serious wasn't the way, but he didn't know that either. 'Say ten-tothe-seventeenth grams in mass and ten-to-the-minus-eleven centimeters across. It would be swallowing a few atoms a day.'

        'Well, at least you know where to find it,' said Childrey. 'Now all you have to do is go after it.'

        Lear nodded, still serious. 'There could be quantum black holes in asteroids. A small asteroid could capture a quantum black hole easily enough, especially if it was charged; a black hole can hold a charge, you know--'


        'All we'd have to do is check out a small asteroid with the Mass Detector. If it masses more than it should, we push it aside and see if it leaves a black hole behind.'

        'You'd need little teeny eyes to see something that small. Anyway, what would you do with it?'

        'You put a charge on it, if it hasn't got one already, and electromagnetic fields. You can vibrate it to make gravity; then you manipulate it with radiation. I think I've got one in here,' he said, patting the alien communicator.

        'Ri-ight,' said Childrey, and he went away laughing.

Within a week the whole base was referring to Lear as the Hole Man, the man with the black hole between his ears.

        It hadn't sounded funny when Lear was telling me about it. The rich variety of the universe. . . But when Childrey talked about the black hole in Lear's Anything Box, it sounded hilarious.

        Please note: Childrey did not misunderstand anything Lear had said. Childrey wasn't stupid. He merely thought Lear was crazy. He could not have gotten away with making fun of Lear, not among educated men, without knowing exactly what he was doing.

        Meanwhile the work went on.

        There were pools of Marsdust, fascinating stuff, fine enough to behave like viscous oil, and knee-deep. Wading through it wasn't dangerous, but it was very hard work, and we avoided it. One day Brace waded out into the nearest of the pools and started feeling around under the dust. Hunch, he said. He came up with some eroded plastic-like containers. The aliens had used the pool as a garbage dump.

        We were having little luck with chemical analysis of the base materials. They were virtually indestructible. We learned more about the chemistry of the alien visitors themselves. They had left traces of themselves on the benches and on the communal waterbed. The traces had most of the chemical components of protoplasm, but Arsvey found no sign of DNA. Not surprising, he said, There must be other giant organic molecules suitable for gene coding.

        The aliens had left volumes of notes behind. The script was a mystery, of course, but we studied the photographs and diagrams. A lot of them were notes on anthropology!

        The aliens had been studying Earth during the first Ice Age.

        None of us were anthropologists, and that was a damn shame. We never learned if we'd found anything new. All we could do was photograph the stuff and beam it up to Lowell. One thing was sure: the aliens had left very long ago, and they had left the lighting and air systems running and the communicator sending a carrier wave.

        For us? Who else?

        The alternative was that the base had been switched off for some six hundred thousand years, then come back on when something detected Lowell approaching Mars. Lear didn't believe it. 'If the power had been off in the communicator,' he said, 'the mass wouldn't be in there any more. The fields have to be going to hold it in place. It's smaller than an atom; it'd fall through anything solid.'

        So the base power system had been running for all that time. What the hell could it be? And where? We traced some cables and found that it was under the base, under several yards of Marsdust fused to lava. We didn't try to dig through that.

        The source was probably geophysical: a hole deep into the core of the planet. The aliens might have wanted to dig such a hole to take core samples. Afterward they would have set up a generator to use the temperature difference between the core and the surface.

        Meanwhile, Lear spent some time tracing down the power sources in the communicator. He found a way to shut off the carrier wave. Now the mass, if there was a mass, was at rest in there. It was strange to see the Forward Mass Detector pouring out straight lines instead of drastically peaked sine waves.

        We were ill-equipped to take advantage of these riches. We had been fitted out to explore Mars, not a bit of civilization from another star. Lear was the exception. He was in his element, with but one thing to mar his happiness.

I don't know what the final argument was about. I was engaged on another project. The Mars lander still had fuel in it. NASA had given us plenty of fuel to hover

while we looked for a landing spot. After some heated discussion, we had agreed to take the vehicle up and hover it next to the nearby dust pool on low thrust.

        It worked fine. The dust rose up in a great soft cloud and went away toward the horizon, leaving the pond bottom covered with otherworldly junk. And more! Arsvey started screaming at Brace to back off. Fortunately Brace kept his head. He tilted us over to one side and took us away on a gentle curve. The backblast never touched the skeletons.

        We worked out there for hours, being very finicky indeed. Here was another skill none of us would own to, but we'd read about how careful an archaeologist has to be, and we did our best. Traces of water had had time to turn some of the dust to natural cement, so that some of the skeletons were fixed to the rock. But we got a couple free. We put them on stretchers and brought them back. One crumbled the instant the air came hissing into the lock. We left the other outside.

        The aliens had not had the habit of taking baths. We'd set up a bathtub with very tall sides, in a room the aliens had reserved for some incomprehensible ritual. I had stripped off my pressure Suit and was heading for the bathtub, very tired, hoping that nobody would be in it.

        I heard voices before I saw them.

        Lear was Shouting.

        Childrey wasn't, but his voice was a carrying one. It carried mockery. He was standing between the supporting pillars. His hands were on his hips, his teeth gleamed white, his head was thrown back to look up at Lear.

        He finished talking. For a time neither of them moved. Then Lear made a sound of disgust. He turned away and pushed one of the buttons on what might have been an alien typewriter keyboard.

        Childrey looked startled. He slapped at his right thigh and brought the hand away bloody. He stared at it, then looked up at Lear. He started to ask a question.

        He crumpled slowly in the low gravity. I got to him before he hit the ground. I cut his pants open and tied a handkerchief over the blood spot. It was a small puncture, but the flesh was puckered above it on a line with his groin.

        Childrey tried to speak. His eyes were wide. He coughed, and there was blood in his mouth.

        I guess I froze. How could I help if I couldn't tell what had happened? I saw a

blood spot on his right shoulder, and I tore the shirt open and found another tiny puncture wound.

        The doctor arrived.

        It took Childrey an hour to die, but the doctor had given up much earlier. Between the wound in his shoulder and the wound in his thigh, Childrey's flesh had been ruptured in a narrow line that ran through one lung and his stomach and part of his intestinal tract. The autopsy showed a tiny, very neat hole drilled through the hipbones.

        We looked for, and found, a hole in the floor beneath the communicator. It was the size of a pencil lead, and packed with dust.

        'I made a mistake,' Lear told the rest of us at the inquest. 'I should never have touched that particular button. It must have switched off the fields that held the mass in place. It just dropped. Captain Childrey was underneath.'

        And it had gone straight through him, eating the mass of him as it went.

        'No, not quite,' said Lear. 'I'd guessed it massed about ten-to-the-fourteenth grams. That only makes it ten-to-the-minus-sixth Angstrom across, much smaller than an atom. It wouldn't have absorbed much. The damage was done to Childrey by tidal effects as it passed through him. You saw how it pulverized the material of the floor.'

        Not surprisingly, the subject of murder did come up.

        Lear shrugged it off. 'Murder with what? Childrey didn't believe there was a black hole in there at all. Neither did many of you.' He smiled suddenly. 'Can you imagine what the trial would be like? Imagine the prosecuting attorney trying to tell a jury what he thinks happened. First he's got to tell them what a black hole is. Then a quantum black hole. Then he's got to explain why he doesn't have the murder weapon, and where he left it, freely falling through Mars! And if he gets that far without being laughed out of court, he's still got to explain how a thing smaller than an atom could hurt anyone!'

        But didn't Dr. Lear know the thing was dangerous? Could he not have guessed its enormous mass from the way it behaved?

        Lear spread his hands. 'Gentlemen, we're dealing with more variables than just mass. Field strength, for instance. I might have guessed its mass from the force it took to keep it there, but did any of us expect the aliens to calibrate their dials in the metric system?'

        Surely there must have been safeties to keep the fields from being shut off accidentally. Lear must have bypassed them.

        'Yes, I probably did, accidentally. I did quite a lot of fiddling to find out how things worked.'

        It got dropped there. Obviously there would be no trial. No ordinary judge or jury could be expected to understand what the attorneys would be talking about. A couple of things never did get mentioned.

        For instance: Childrey's last words. I might or might not have repeated them if I'd been asked to. They were: 'All right, show me! Show it to me or admit it isn't there!'

        As the court was breaking up I spoke to Lear with my voice lowered. 'That was probably the most unique murder weapon in history.'

        He whispered, 'If you said that in company I could sue for slander.'

        'Yeah? Really? Are you going to explain to a jury what you think I implied happened?'

        'No, I'll let you get away with it this time.'

        'Hell, you didn't get away scot-free yourself. What are you going to study now?

The only known black hole in the universe, and you let it drop through your fingers.'

        Lear frowned. 'You're right. Partly right, anyway. But I knew as much about it as I was going to, the way I was going. Now. . . I stopped it vibrating in there, then took the mass of the entire setup with the Forward Mass Sensor. Now the black hole isn't in there any more. I can get the mass of the black hole by taking the mass of the communicator alone.'

        'And I can cut the machine open, see what's inside. How they controlled it. Damn it, I wish I were six years old.'

        'What? Why?'

        'Well. . . I don't have the times straightened out. The math is chancy. Either a few years from now, or a few centuries, there's going to be a black hole between Earth and Jupiter. It'll be big enough to study. I think about forty years.'

        When I realized what he was implying, I didn't know whether to laugh or scream. 'Lear, you can't think that something that small could absorb Mars!'

        'Well, remember that it absorbs everything it comes near. A nucleus here, an electron there . . . and it's not just waiting for atoms to fall into it. Its gravity is ferocious, and it's falling back and forth through the center of the planet, sweeping up matter. The more it eats, the bigger it gets, with its volume going up as the cube of the mass. Sooner or later, yes, it'll absorb Mars. By then it'll be just less than a millimeter across--big enough to see.'

        'Could it happen within thirteen months?'

        'Before we leave? Hmm.' Lear's eyes took on a faraway look. 'I don't think so. I'll have to work it out. The math is chancy . .


Re:Way ahead of you (1)

Headcase88 (828620) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683637)

"John Nelson at Birmingham University stated of RHIC that 'it is astonishingly unlikely that there is any risk - but I could not prove it.'"
:O That'd make one sweet disaster movie.

Didn't these scientists learn anything from Spiderman 2? Chances are one of these scientists will go psychotic from a certain ancient virus that was brought back to life (which also gives him supernatural powers), and build an Extra Large Hadron Collider and destroy us all.

Re:Way ahead of you (1)

modecx (130548) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683797)

As a side note, tonight I am sleeping on the couch: got busted typoing a Google image search for 'Large Hadron Collider.'

Huh... So, the misses generally has a problem with pulsating tubes shooting hot protons into large Swiss caverns?

Re:Wonderful (2, Informative)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683383)

Err, no, at the center of the Earth gravitational pull wouldn't be infinite. Rather, there wouldn't be any.

The mistake you're making is trying to do the calculation with Earth's mass and zero radius. But the thing is the gravity doesn't come from a tiny point in the center, that's just a simplification. As you go inside the earth, there's going to be more and more matter over you pulling in the opposite direction. Were you to end up in the center there would be no gravity at all, as the matter around you would pull equally in every direction.

Re:Wonderful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683495)

As you go inside the earth, there's going to be more and more matter over you pulling in the opposite direction. Were you to end up in the center there would be no gravity at all, as the matter around you would pull equally in every direction.

That happened to me once.

Re:Wonderful (0, Offtopic)

BIGELLOW (970109) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683583)

Yes, but the further away from the center of gravity you get, the weaker the gravitational pull. And, the closer you get to the center of gravity the greater the gravitational pull. I understand your point, though, that as you dig down into the Earth, the gravity of the matter above you would begin to counteract the gravity of the matter below you. Reaching the center causes you to meet the equilibrium. However, if one were to assume the gravitational pull at the center of the Earth was actually zero, there would be no reason for the matter at the center of the Earth to remain where it is... EXCEPT for the fact that the matter above it is pulling it down. The same could be said about all layers of matter until you reach the surface. It goes against logical thinking that the only reason the Earth is being held together is due to the weaker gravitational forces at the surface pushing down on the matter at the depths of stronger gravitational forces. If you were to over-think this process, by digging a hole to the center of the Earth, you would essentially be changing the center of gravity's location. A little like chasing the end of the rainbow to me. Perhaps there is also something to be said by the density of the atmosphere. Since the density of the atmosphere is less dense the higher you go, wouldn't it become more dense the further you get to the center of the Earth? If that's the case, what kind of buoyant effect would it have to counteract the pull of gravity? Perhaps due to this, it would be impossible to drill down so far since the densities would become presumably greater and greater as would the atmospheric pressure. Anyway, I still think it's a bad idea to tinker around with otherwise inactive organisms or viruses.

Re:Wonderful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683687)

Very good stuff you are smoking there, where can I get some?

The matter at the centre of the earth is not remaining where it is, it is in orbit around the sun and thus moving very quickly. But even considering the earth in isolation, there is quite a thickens of rock on top, all subjected to gravity. Ok, the strength of the fiel is reducing as you go down, but the cumulative pressure due to the layers on top keeps going up, so down at the bottom you have enough pressure to make diamonds.

Yes, the air gets more dense as you go down too. Take a barometer down a deep mine next time you get the chance. But not dense enough to make rocks float. You would need to consider the termperature as well, to determine if the atmosphere would liquify before the density got high enough to float rocks. But anyway, you can't make a hole that deep since the rocks will collapse into it under the extreme pressure at some depth

Re:Wonderful (1)

burndive (855848) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683493)

After all, the theory behind gravity itself is that the gravitational pull is infinite at the center of gravity

Not sure what you're smoking on that one.

If you were at the center of the earth, you would feel no net gravitational pull from the earth (i.e., you would experience weigtlessness), however, the earth would feel your gravitational pull.

Re:Wonderful (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683761)

. . .the gravitational pull is infinite at the center of gravity


. . .a black hole coexisting at the center of Earth should only make a minimal impact, right?



Re:Wonderful (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683969)

. . .a black hole coexisting at the center of Earth should only make a minimal impact, right?


If the black hole was created at the center of the Earth, no problem. It's when it is created at the surface and falls down, and through the center, eating a little bit of matter on the way down, then back up the other side, then down again, and up, and down, and up... Then we have a problem.

Really interesting (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683147)

A virus that's been sitting in our genome is resurrected. I wonder what else is in there? I know we have a whole host of transposons that like to jump around and usually don't do any harm.

Re:Really interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683577)

a large amount of transposons were originally viruses that got stably incorporated into our genome

Dangerous? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683149)

Obviously, greater minds than mine are working on this. But can someone explain why this is dangerous if this retrovirus is already part of our genome?

Here's an anolgy (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683219)

You can hold salt in your hand and lick it, so surely it should then be safe to do the same with sodium and chlorine since they are just parts of salt?

Re:Here's an anolgy (1)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683437)

That's all well and good if you ignore the actual complexity of the problem and reduce it down to terms that a 4 or 5 year old could understand. Sodium and Chlorine are definitely dangerous, and their interaction with our bloodstream is nowhere near as complex as a virus's interaction with our DNA. An above poster made the very good point that it's possible for viruses to be beneficial or to contribute beneficial pieces to our genome. Chlorine only kills us. What I'm trying to say is that your analogy reflects that you don't actually understand the problem, or you wouldn't need the analogy in the first place.

Re:Here's an anolgy (1)

SnoopJeDi (859765) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683443)

Not really the same analogy.

A lot of study on viruses is done using bacteria. Phages like T4 that affect bacteria are some of the best things for people to look at to learn generalities about viruses. Just because a gene is in our genotype does NOT mean the particular phenotype is expressed. If that were the case, there would be quite a few less heritable diseases, because carriers would die. Viruses can lie dormant in the genome of its host for several cell cycles, letting the cell do the work of reproducing its genome, then, when stimulated, become active and lyse the cell.

Also, from the article:
Indeed, the human genome is littered with the remnants of such human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) (ScienceNOW, 29 September 2004). So far, researchers had been unable to recover a complete, functional HERV from a human genome however; part of the reason, they assumed, was that mutations accumulated over the millennia had rendered such viruses dysfunctional.

Not to mention that we've probably evolved a slight defense to this over a few thousand years.

because thats what we really need... (3, Funny)

spagetti_code (773137) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683159)

...a new (retro)virus.

I mean - I was just saying the other day to a friend, I haven't
seen a new virus in ages... just the same old ebola, HIV,
flu, H5N1, herpes... I mean YAWN. Where's the excitement in
those? /sarcasm

Re:because thats what we really need... (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683235)

Just because a virus exists doesn't mean it's going to immediately INFEKT TEH WORLLD! Smallpox the virus still exists in two chambers in Atlanta and Moscow. Smallpox the disease hasn't been seen for years.

Re:because thats what we really need... (1)

SnoopJeDi (859765) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683471)

Just for pedantics, Ebola [wikipedia.org] is not a retrovirus. It's a filovirus.

In fact, out of the ones you listed, only HIV is a retrovirus.

Unless you're punning.

Re:because thats what we really need... (1)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683799)

You people are so pessimistic. Next you'll be saying that my perfectly harmless experiments to re-animate formerly living tissue could somehow have unforeseen, disastrous consequences!

Very interesting (4, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683185)

Only 3% of the genome is genes, the rest is junk DNA which has a lot of interesting stuff like alternate versions of genes, commented out ideas, and coded critters like this one that sit in your DNA like "sunken ships". There are like 200 copies of reverse transcriptase in the human genome, different versions, all in this junk DNA. Reverse transcriptase has absolutely no legitimate purpose in a eukaryote. It can take a segment of RNA (usually viral RNA), convert it into DNA, and stich it into your genome. Only viruses need to do that. The RNA itself has code for reverse transcriptase, and we see it in our chromosomes all over the place, this gene that is useful to viruses and no one else. It's the most common gene in your body.

Viruses have a lytic cycle where they express nasty genes and build capsids inside you, and a lysogenic cycle, where they adopt a different strategy- they get into your DNA, become part of the junk DNA, and they replicate during normal cell division along with all the rest of your DNA.

Junk DNA has all sorts of nasty critters in it. One trick your body uses is to carpet especially infectious regions with methyl groups via cytosine methylation [wikipedia.org] . Basically the idea is that the methyl groups jam up the machinery that comes along to express proteins, so if the proteins are viral, you can "comment them out" that way. When a cell divides, both strands of its DNA have methylated cytosines in the same regions. After the DNA replicates you have two methylated daughter strands, each coupled with a brand new complimentary strand. This complimentary strand has no methyl groups on it. So a clever enzyme comes along, DNA methyltransferase. [wikipedia.org] It has a regulatory domain and a catalytic domain. The regulatory domain runs across the DNA feeling it for methyl groups. If it finds them on one strand, the catalytic domain deposits methyl groups on the other strand. That way, the stretch of DNA can be marked as "bad news" in a way that is heritable, despite the fact that no actual DNA sequence is being "inherited". As far as where the initial methylation signal came from, that can probably be put down to natural selection.

Re:Very interesting (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683243)

"Only 3% of the genome is genes, the rest is junk DNA which has a lot of interesting stuff like alternate versions of genes, commented out ideas, and coded critters like this one that sit in your DNA like "sunken ships"." So, you mean, it's like Microsoft source code?

Re:Very interesting (3, Interesting)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683375)

I had read recently in Popular Science that said researchers discovered that alot of what we thought was junk DNA is actually regulatory code that operates in coordination and in response to the environment of protiens and enzymes to turn genes on and off and change the folding of the DNA structure itself. I think they called the idea, the epigenome, if anyone else knows more. (I forget which issue. It may have been Scientific American instead.)

Re:Very interesting (1)

GrahamCox (741991) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683481)

Only viruses need to do that. The RNA itself has code for reverse transcriptase, and we see it in our chromosomes all over the place, this gene that is useful to viruses and no one else.

Was the original genome 1.0 written by Microsoft, by any chance? I suggest we start looking in our DNA for Bill Gates' copyright notices.

Re:Very interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683697)

"Reverse transcriptase has absolutely no legitimate purpose in a eukaryote."
What about TERT??? Dont we use reverse transcriptase for telomere repair?

Re:Very interesting (1, Insightful)

E++99 (880734) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683713)

Only 3% of the genome is genes, the rest is junk DNA...

Based on what? We only JUST mapped out the 3% that encodes protiens (the genes). Science does not know what the rest of the DNA does or does not do. There is certainly no study that I can find that offers proof that it is unused. It's the furthering of the trend of treating ignorance as if it were knowledge. If they had intellectual honesty, instead of proclaiming DNA 97% junk, they'd proclaim themselves 97% ignorant. Labeling of it as "junk," especially in our infancy, or rather fetushood, of understanding DNA, is the absolute pinnacle of scientific arrogance. Maybe next they'll look up at the sky, and seeing clear proof of life around one star, and none around the others, declare all the rest "junk stars."

Re:Very interesting (4, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683827)

"Only 3% of the genome is genes, the rest is junk DNA..."
  Based on what? We only JUST mapped out the 3% that encodes protiens (the genes). Science does not know what the rest of the DNA does or does not do. There is certainly no study that I can find that offers proof that it is unused. It's the furthering of the trend of treating ignorance as if it were knowledge. If they had intellectual honesty, instead of proclaiming DNA 97% junk, they'd proclaim themselves 97% ignorant. Labeling of it as "junk," especially in our infancy, or rather fetushood, of understanding DNA, is the absolute pinnacle of scientific arrogance. Maybe next they'll look up at the sky, and seeing clear proof of life around one star, and none around the others, declare all the rest "junk stars."

Dude, I'll just refer you to the Wikipedia page on Junk DNA [wikipedia.org] (the bold tags are mine):

In molecular biology, "junk" DNA is a collective label for the portions of the DNA sequence of a chromosome or a genome for which no function has yet been identified. About 97% of the human genome has been designated as "junk", including most sequences within introns and most intergenic DNA. While much of this sequence is probably an evolutionary artifact that serves no present-day purpose, some may function in ways that are not currently understood. In fact, recent studies have suggested functions for certain portions of what has been called junk DNA. Moreover, the conservation of some junk DNA over many millions of years of evolution may imply an essential function. Some consider the "junk" label as something of a misnomer, but others consider it apposite as junk is stored away for possible new uses, rather than thrown out; others prefer the term "noncoding DNA" (although junk DNA often includes transposons that encode proteins with no clear value to their host genome).
And I didn't even edit that on Wikipedia before replying either.

You can call it something else if you're offended, but the DNA itself won't have its feelings hurt if you call it junk.

Re:Very interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683821)

Actually, we do have legitimate reverse transcriptases. One that springs to mind is telomerase.

Re:Very interesting (1)

iabervon (1971) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683977)

The part of the genome that doesn't code for proteins is hardly "junk". It's full of binding sites for regulatory molecules, sections that don't code for anything but help the molecule fold and unfold without breaking.

It's also plausible that the viral sections you mention are kept so that the immune system can produce antibodies for them, by treating those sections of the genome as deactivated virus. This would give the organism as advantage to having those sections deactivated over not having them at all if there is active virus of those sorts out there somewhere.

For that matter, all sorts of weird stuff going on with the immune system. As far as anyone can tell, it uses an enzyme set that does double-stranded break repair for some purpose such that if that set is not functioning, the immune system destroys the organism. Perhaps some of the regions that don't code for proteins are used as a certificate of authenticity for the organism's own cells, demonstrating that those cells have the same random strings that the immune system does. If all of the genome coded for useful proteins, the password wouldn't be secret enough.

Re:Very interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683997)

the rest is junk DNA

I think you're referring to introns which are, in effect, taken out of the equation as DNA replication only looks at the exons. However I wouldn't call them junk as they might do something -- otherwise what's the point of keeping them around? Maybe they are like a versioning control system so that different older DNA patterns aren't tried again.

Then again maybe they do do something, like control gene regulation. To quote Stimpy "That's just it ... we don't know!"

Revival being controversial? (1)

CherniyVolk (513591) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683193)

Revival or restoration... I think that a fully restored 1967 Hemi Barracuda is a very nice car!

Anyways, I was more expecting that the focus of controversy here would be evidence or other implications indicative of Nature's myriad ways to encourage evolution.

Re:Revival being controversial? (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683611)

Revival or restoration... I think that a fully restored 1967 Hemi Barracuda is a very nice car!
The corollary is, of course, that a revival of the barracuda would be a bad idea. Look at the aweful spate of reintroduced (or "revived") american muscle cars: the mustang, the t-bird, the camero. Even if they are more advanced (and, sometimes, more powerful) vehicles, they pale in comparison to the original.

Now, I'm far from any medical expert... (1)

Nemetroid (883968) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683199)

...but if it's in our genome, shouldn't that mean that it's harmless to us?

Re:Now, I'm far from any medical expert... (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683401)

According to my calculations... the drain cleaner under your kitchen sink is... edible?

Re:Now, I'm far from any medical expert... (1)

Nemetroid (883968) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683431)

Point well taken. But what i meant was that if it's even part of our genome, shouldn't that our body already knows how to control this virus, because otherwise it would be affecting us? (note: i understand that I'm very probably wrong, but it would be interesting to knäw how something harmful can exist in our genome without harming us)

Re:Now, I'm far from any medical expert... (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683869)

how something harmful can exist in our genome without harming us

Most of these viruses intend to sit quiet and hide inside the genome until their time comes. You can think of them as sleeper agents, if you like.

Of course, most happen to wait so long that they get damaged to the point where 're-awakening' is possible (misplaced promoter, erased START, premature STOP, garbled frame encoding, whatever). Others get converted to serve a useful purpose (becoming proto-oncogenes). Yet others wake up, and cause genetic defects, mutations, and cancer.

Think of these as Bin Laden's boys inside the US: some will OD on cocaine, some will get in jail for DUI, some will like our Freedom and give up terrorism and get a real job, and yet others will be ready to do us harm when their time comes.

Inheritable diseases and legacy code. (1)

Etherwalk (681268) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683905)

Many inheritable diseases are part of our genome, too.

So are recessive traits that might express themselves in our children.

So are many inactive things that aren't usually expressed. Think of it as legacy code that would never be called by a sane programmer.

No no no - not controversal enough (-1, Flamebait)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683233)

Let's jazz this baby up a bit. Needs a catchy angle to get onto the wire-services.

Let's call the Virus "Jesus".

That'll get-em rolling in the aisles. Hallalujia

Re:No no no - not controversal enough (-1, Offtopic)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683479)

What Jesus freak called this joke flamebait?

Probably voted for Bush too.

Fuck you moderator.

Re:No no no - not controversal enough (1)

rHBa (976986) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683873)

Definitely flamebait, funny flamebait, nothing wrong with that though.

Link to the Original Article in Genome Research (3, Informative)

jestill (656510) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683255)

The abstract [genome.org] with a link to the full pdf [genome.org] is available online. The pdf is available on campus from many universities. It is interesting that this is already in the news. This is not technically in print form yet, and was just posted to the journal's advance articles web site.

Re:Link to the Original Article in Genome Research (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683559)

I think it made the news because it's a bit worrying.

Biowarfare labs already know how to take a mild virus and amp up its virulence. Now scientists are digging up agents that are known to be infectious... You see where I'm going?

Put it in that context, it's easy to see why TFA says that this type of lab work should be authorized at the (inter)national level & done under the highest level of containment.

Re:Link to the Original Article in Genome Research (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683929)

I think it made the news because it's a bit worrying.

I think it made the news because of the concern that the work should have been subject to greater review. The research was normal enough stuff, but nobody likes a mad scientist. Nobody. NOBODY you hear! HAHAHAHAHAhahahah........

I'm not a mad scientist, honest. I'm being a penguin today.

Not very Intelligent design (2, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683283)

If human beings were designed, it seems to be a poor design to include copies of viruses in it. But we mere mortal humble human beings dont have the intellect to fathom the Divine Intentions. All we can say for sure is that, unless you pay the priest 10% of your income and get dunked in a pool you will rot in Hell.

Re:Not very Intelligent design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683417)

Why can't we have both schools? Start by design. Once started, evolution takes over.

I don't believe in design. I subscribe to the school that it looks like design but it was the only stable system that could exist. In that view, I see nothing wrong with "stable universe" => "existence" => "evolution." Is it that difficult?

My problem with evolution is that it doesn't explain the beginning. Why were there more species in the beginning, etc...

To me design is simply the stable universe that could be. Once started that universe changes through evolution. No religion (for creationism or evolution). You see the only universe that was stable in hydrogen bonds and the force of gravity. Anything else COULD NOT exist. (as we know it)

Re:Not very Intelligent design (4, Informative)

frogstar_robot (926792) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683535)

My problem with evolution is that it doesn't explain the beginning.

Then you need not have a problem with evolution. Evolution and abiogenesis (life from non-life) are two separate questions and topics. Evolution tells us that descent with modification is the current best explanation for the species and forms we see today. It does not purport to tell us what the first life form(s)? were or how they came to be. That is a separate and far more speculative field of study.

Even Darwin understood this way back when. His first attempt to systemize evolution was NOT called "Origin of Life". It was called "Origin of Species". Evolution operates on extant forms of life. If it operates in the processes that lead to life starting in the first place, the mechanisms involved are likely different from the ones creationists and (reputable) biologists argue all the time. Evolution presupposes entities capable of self-reproduction. You need replicators of some sort to even talk about evolution in the first place. Once the first replicator either spontaneously arrives or is created (and no this need not be dismissed out of hand but if the only case for it is faith-based then we aren't talking science.....) then evolution can take over and eventually bring about forms vastly more varied and different from the starting point.

ReGenesis (1)

neurodrum (1021483) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683297)

ReGenesis, that great canadian cable series about a team of maverick scientists doing cutting edge microbio amid global intrigue :) They had a story arc the 2nd half of last season, iirc - a cell line used typically had a hidden retrovirus that was millions of years old. Worth checking out when it returns in the spring for it's 3rd season. http://www.regenesistv.com/ [regenesistv.com]

...by any other name... (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683309)

>> this particular virus, dubbed Phoenix, is a wimpy one

Well, as long as it's not dubbed "Grothrox the Strong, Destroyer of Worlds, Bleeder of Humanity"... just play outside and change out of your school clothes.

HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (5, Interesting)

Rob Carr (780861) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683319)

Resuscitating this virus presented no danger. Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs for short) make up 8% of the human genome.

In this particular case, there were 30 copies of the virus in the genome. They worked backward to create the original virus. The resultant virus was disabled so that, after replicating once in a cell, the daughter viruses could not replicate. So there was no risk.

In the human genome, the researchers point out, are the pieces from other viruses. 8% of the human genome codes for HERV proteins or their regulatory subunits [nature.com] . If these pieces are activated, they can reassemble to create a new, working virus. This happens naturally.

All of these HERVs are viruses that, throughout human evolution, we and our ancestors have more or less come to terms with. At some point, many of them were probably devastating. But those that caught the virus, survived, and reproduced were able to mitigate the effects of the virus. These are viruses we've reached a "détente" with. They no longer rampage through the population. In fact, some of the proteins they produce are vital to our survival. One of these retroviral proteins permits implantation of the placenta. Without it, we'd all have placentas that don't attach to the uterine lining -- like mice, which as a result, aren't very complex when they have to be born.

Yes, HERVs are related to cancer. This occurs naturally. They act in a transposon-like manner, and they can pop into areas where they either damage mechanisms that prevent cancer or control cell replication. If we don't study these viral remains, we won't learn about them, won't learn what we can safely disable further -- and what we don't dare eliminate from our genome because we are dependent upon it.

These researchers were not Dr. Frankensteins, messing with things man was not meant to know. They were careful, they were deliberate, and theya re beginning the investigation into what could be an incredibly crucial topic in molecular biology.

Remember -- these are viruses that we learned to live with, more or less. By studying them, we can learn to mitigate the damage they still present.

Re:HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (3, Interesting)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683393)

Kind of raises the quesion: if we were able to strip out all of this excesses DNA, would the resulting DNA still be useful?

Re:HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683519)

Kind of raises the quesion: if we were able to strip out all of this excesses DNA, would the resulting DNA still be useful?

Probably. But I expect it'd be a whole lot more critical. Having all the junk DNA provides padding or buffer if you will for the important parts of the DNA. A haystack for the needle so to speak.

Without all the junk DNA we carry around I suspect the portions that actually express as humans would be far more susceptible and sensitive to mutation than it is currently.

Re:HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (5, Funny)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683655)

Hell yes! I removed all that crap and compiled my DNA with -O4 -funfold-proteins -march=ubermensch and now I can flip a VW bus with one hand and paint fences with my mind! w00t!

Re:HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (1)

Vegeta99 (219501) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683857)

From the parent:

"One of these retroviral proteins permits implantation of the placenta. Without it, we'd all have placentas that don't attach to the uterine lining -- like mice, which as a result, aren't very complex when they have to be born."

I'd be willing to guess that you'd have quite a different creature on your hands.

Re:HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683447)

I read something the other day saying that a lot of people are infected with the same virus that causes genital herpes, but its in an inactive stage and will probably never activate, because their body keeps it in check.

Something like 40% of the population has it, whereas only like 10% of people that have it get the traditional symptoms and pass it on.

I bet a lot of virii are like this.

They are one of the strongest proofs of evolution (1)

JoeBuck (7947) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683473)

We can see the common marks the retroviruses left in human and chimpanzee DNA.

See this paper [pnas.org] for a detailed treatment of how the family tree of the primates can be reconstructed by the retrovirus sequences in our genes.

Pretty much the only available response from the ID crowd is that God created false evidence to test our faith.

Re:HERVs: 8% of Human Genome (2, Insightful)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683555)

The resultant virus was disabled so that, after replicating once in a cell, the daughter viruses could not replicate. So there was no risk.

Life will find a way.... have you learnt nothing?

Jurassic Test Tube. (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683327)

Do these people not read any books or watch any movies.

Re:Jurassic Test Tube. (1)

ResidntGeek (772730) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683429)

No, they prefer to learn their science from study and research. Good question, though.

Re:Jurassic Test Tube. (1)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683907)

Sounds like a great way to inadvertantly bring about a zombie apocalypse.

Someone get these guys a copy of "Night of the Living Dead"!

Jurassic Park Reference... (1)

quakeroatz (242632) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683423)

Maybe it's just me, but with the choice between:

1) Resurrecting an ancient retrovirus, spreading like the plague from a Level 3 lab
2) Resurrecting a dinosaur that escapes.

I'll take one huge pissed off Trex, light him up with a little A-10 fire, and call it a day.

Also the headline: "Trex Eats 2 Dozen French Scientists", just reads better.

You are retarded. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683787)

Movies are not a good view of how science works. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Relax... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683453)

What could possibly go wrong?!

ifo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683457)

I for one welcome our new ancient-viral overlords

The Plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683505)

Step 1: Resurrect Ancient Virus
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Oh ****

News Flash: Scientists teach Democrats to vote (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683585)

That would be the real breakthough, since Democrats are apparently STILL TOO FUCKING STUPID SIX YEARS ON to vote correctly. Jesus Christ. Blame Bush, blame Florida, blame Ohio, blame Diebold, but for fuck's sake DO NOT BLAME YOUR OWN STUPIDITY. Fuck you you fucking idiots. And fuck your boy John "Nigger Cunt" Kerry too.

Retro Retrovirus (1)

lancelet (898272) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683635)

Indeed, it's a retro retrovirus. So out of fashion, it just had to be brought back. :-)

Re:Retro Retrovirus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683925)

...(Sometimes I REALLY wish I had points to give to this guy. But there's no MOD for "funny like a dead-baby joke.")...

Relevant Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Quote (1)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683643)

"The Academician's private residences shall remain off-limits to the Genetic Inspectors. We possess no retroviral capability, we are not researching retroviral engineering, and we shall not allow this Council to violate faction privileges in the name of this ridiculous witch hunt!"

* Fedor Petrov, Vice Provost for University Affairs

They obviously know somthing about it (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683661)

Can someone explain to me why that, if they knew enough about it to ensure it could replicate only once, they needed to revive it to learn anything more about it ?

Im Kent Brockman and... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16683719)

I would like to be the first to welcome our new Virii Overlords...

viruses as tools (1)

Xybot (707278) | more than 7 years ago | (#16683933)

I think that viruses, in particular retro-viruses, will rapidly become one of the essential medical toolkits for treating a number of genetic diseases. They also show alot of potential for treating cancer by targeted drug delivery and cell lysis (google "oncolysis"). Ironically viruses like Herpes may end up saving quite a few lives. I'd love to have a job hacking genomes, but given then again given some of the code bugs I've generated in the past, perhaps it's safer for humanity if I don't tinker.
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