|Hidden Universe of Complexity|
But more papers and information came out about the human microbiome and symbiont microbes.
Then came more research results from the scientific world which revealed the activity of microbe viruses on the genetics of mammals.
So now the time is ripe to talk about a scientific paper that is less than a year old, and a paper which links microbe viruses and stem cells in the most surprising discoveries yet discussed.
So, you decide if it was worth waiting for.
There is some controversy about whether DNA is alive or not, as there is with various viruses, but there is growing evidence for a virus first evolutionary narrative.
I think this is indicated by the role viruses play during stem cell morph into a myriad of different types of cells:
We all started out as a fertilized egg: a solitary cell about as wide as a shaft of hair. That primordial sphere produced the ten trillion cells that make up each of our bodies. We are not merely sacs of identical cells, of course. A couple hundred types of cells arise as we develop. We’re encased in skin, inside of which bone cells form a skeleton; inside the skull are neurons woven into a brain.(We Are Viral From the Beginning, Discover, emphasis added). So, a lot of back and forth, a lot of switching on and off, of genetic "buttons" takes place with the assistance of viral elements (or during stem cell body repair episodes).
What made this alchemy possible? The answer, in part, is viruses.
One way cells can switch genes on and off is producing proteins that latch onto nearby stretches of DNA called promoters. The match between the protein and the promoter has to be precise; otherwise, genes will be flipping on at all the wrong times, and failing to make proteins when they’re needed. Pfaff and his colleagues found that all the two-cell genes had identical promoters–which would explain how they all managed to become active at the same time.
What was really remarkable about their discovery was the origin of those promoters. They came from viruses.
During the earliest stage of the embryo’s development, these virus-controlled genes are active. Then the cells clamp down on them, just as they would clamp down on viruses. Once those genes are silenced, the totipotent cells become pluripotent.
Pfaff and his colleagues also discovered something suprising when they looked at the pluripotent ball of cells. From time to time, the pluripotent cells let the virus-controlled genes switch on again, and then shut them back down. All of the cells, it turns out, cycle in and out of what the scientists call a “magic state,” in which they become temporarily totipotent again.
Cells in the magic state can give rise to any part of the embryo, as well as the placenta and other tissue outside the embryo. Once the virus-controlled genes get shut down again, they lose that power. This discovery demonstrated that these virus-controlled genes really are crucial for making cells totipotent.
Pfaff and his colleagues propose that the domestication of these virus promoters was a key step in the evolution of mammals with placentas. The idea that viruses made us who were are today may sound bizarre, except that Pfaff is hardly the first person to find evidence for it. Last year, for example, I wrote about how placental mammals stole a virus protein to build the placenta.
A discovery this strange inevitably raises questions that its discoverers cannot answer. What are the virus-controlled genes doing in those first two cells? Nobody knows. How did the domestication of this viral DNA help give rise to placental mammals 100 million years ago? Who knows? Why are viruses so intimately involved in so many parts of pregnancy? Awesome question. A very, very good question. Um, do we have any other questions?
This increases the risk of mutation if we factor in some of the details of a paper written by a physicist, of all disciplines.
He explains that at the quantum level, deep down in DNA, "proton tunneling" can cause DNA mutation:
"The analysis of the original proton wave packet involves an interesting phase problem, and, since the energy distribution is temperature dependent, the whole phenomenon is also temperature dependent."(Proton Tunneling in DNA and its Biological Implications, by Per-Olov Löwdin; Journal: Review of Modern Physics, Vol 35, No. 3, July 1963, emphasis added). This quantum level proton tunneling behavior is said to be more likely to occur under some conditions than under others.
"The tunneling times will depend essentially on the height and the form of the barrier. In DNA, the form of the double-well potentials regulating the hydrogen bonds depend not only on the base pair involved but also on neighboring pairs, their net charges, and the entire electric environment. The tunneling time is hence not only characteristic for a certain biological specimen but is also a function of the position in the DNA molecule involved. The tunneling time is very likely also temperature dependent, even if the protons are well shielded in the double helix. The main problem is whether the tunneling time is very short in comparison to the replication time, or whether there exist organisms where the penetration of the barrier is slow in comparison to the replication."
"It should always be remembered that, in Born's interpretation of quantum mechanics, the quantity |¥|² represents the probability density for finding the proton in a specific position. The tunneling of the wave packet is hence a time-dependent process which is going to influence the properties of the genetic code."
"In this connection, it should be observed that the tunneling probabilities depend not only on the base pair involved but also on the electrostatic environment, the neighboring base pairs, etc., which may explain the occurrence of "hot spots."
At a DNA replication, the protons have to "choose sides," and the proton code immediately after a DNA replication represents actually a nonstationary state from the quantum-mechanical point of view. The time evolution of the system and particularly the penetration of the potential barrier in the double-well potential represents a loss of the genetic code which should perhaps be considered as the primary cause of aging. The aging is thus a process which goes on continuously in the DNA molecule but gets "manifested" at the replications.
Proton tunneling may finally be of importance in connection with the occurrence of spontaneous tumors. The growth of an individual is a highly refined balance between factors which enhance the cell duplication and other factors which limit this duplication so that the organism takes a specific shape. The entire process is stimulated and controlled by various enzymes, and there is a feedback from the environment about which we know, at present, very little. If there is a somatic mutation, i.e., a change of the genetic code in a DNA molecule in the body of an organism, the change may influence the protein synthesis and the balance between the enhancing and controlling enzyme actions in the growth cycle. Actually, the new genetic code may lead to the development of a "new individual" within the individual, i.e., a tumor."
"In this paper we have pointed out that, since the protons are not classical particles but "wave packets" obeying the laws of modern quantum theory, the genetic code cannot --in spite of all precautions-- be 100% stable. Due to the quantum-mechanical "tunnel effect," there is always a small but finite probability that the protons will change place, alter the genetic code, and give rise to mutations. This implies also that this transfer of protons over a distance of about 10-^8 cm may be one of the driving forces in the evolution of living organisms on the earth."
The likelihood of it happening statistically increases when stem cells are transitioning from one potency phase to another, or back again.
Could this be another suspect place where the mysterious toxins of power emerge as a mutation enhanced by the torque caused by having power over others ("power corrupts ... absolute power corrupts absolutely")?
We can reflect on what Dr. Roger Penrose said about the source of human intelligence, and what Dr. Ernst Mayr said about it, then conclude for ourselves.
The following video has a discussion of the mysterious world at the quantum level of protons in DNA molecules: