The viruses that made us

Inspiring Science

Enterobacteria phage λ, Lambda phage-coliphage λ, José F. Vargas, http://elnefashu.deviantart.com/ (Photo credit: PHYLOMON)Viruses make their living by breaking into cells and using the machinery and energy in the cell to reproduce.  Once inside, some viruses immediately hijack the cell and make copies of themselves which burst out into the world to infect new cells.  Other viruses take a staid approach, though.  Instead of taking over the cell, they quietly slip a copy of their genes into its DNA.  When the cell divides, it copies the newly acquired viral genes along with the rest of its genome.  It’s a better deal for the virus, since all of the cell’s descendants will be carrying viral genes which can eventually come out of hiding to commandeer the cell and replicate.  A really lucky virus is one that finds itself inside an egg cell.  Getting into the DNA of a single cell means getting copied into all of its daughter cells, but getting into the DNA…

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