No one likes viruses. At a minimum, they’re capable of making you feel miserable for a few days. And in the worst cases, they lead to lethal pandemics—a reality we’re all well acquainted with by now.
But they also shape the world in ways many people never give much thought to.
So, since we’re living through history right now—and rounding the bend into another cold and flu season—I thought I would devote today to talking a little bit more about viruses. And more specifically, about the vital impact that they have had (and continue to have) on the human race…
As humans, we like to think we exist at the very top of the food chain. But if COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that we’re just as vulnerable as any other living thing on this planet.
And in the end, viruses have emerged as our most dangerous predators.
They have caused the most notorious modern pandemics—including not just the current coronavirus crisis, but also HIV/AIDS and the flu of 1918, which ultimately killed more people than World War I.
Viruses also played a sinister role in the European settlement of the Americas, thanks to smallpox, measles, and influenza—all viruses responsible for decimating indigenous populations.
So, what is it that makes them so deadly? Well, viruses are little packages of genetic material, and they use the metabolism of their hosts in order to reproduce. This makes them parasitic in nature, as they take everything from their hosts except their genetic codes.
Needless to say, this is a very successful strategy. After all, the world is teeming with viruses. In fact, you’ll find 100 billion virus particles in just one liter of sea water. And ten times that amount in just two pounds of soil.
In other words, viruses outnumber every other form of life on our planet.
A necessary evil
Yes, viruses have adapted to attack every organism that exists. But they do some good, too…
For one thing, they fuel biodiversity. The ocean has so many different species of plankton because viruses tend to attack the most abundant varieties.
They’ve also had a hand in shaping evolution. Viral genomes can actually integrate into the host’s DNA, which the host can then use to its own advantage. (As much as 25 percent of the human genome may have viral origins!)
For example, mammals—including human beings—are able to procreate because a viral gene was modified to allow placentas to form. Plus, we can even credit viruses for human brain development.
The bottom line is this: The science on viruses is weird and fascinating. And for all of the trouble it has brought, COVID-19 offers an opportunity to learn even more about viruses… and to further refine our defenses against these tiny bugs.
This is important, because we will never have a virus-free world—and while it may not seem like it right now, that’s a good thing. Because yes, viruses are lethal. But they’re also a critical source of diversity and necessary change.
At the very least, remembering this might help to make the tragedy and inconvenience of this historic crisis a little easier to endure.
P.S. Maintaining a healthy immune system is key to combatting all viruses. That’s why I outline all of my top immune health recommendations in one comprehensive report, my Complete Guide to Year-Round Immunity. To learn more about it, click here now!
“The aliens among us: How viruses shape the world.” The Economist, 08/22/2020. (economist.com/leaders/2020/08/22/how-viruses-shape-the-world)