Sunday, April 14, 2024

Viral Insertion: How a Retrovirus May Have Sparked the Evolution of Myelin and Vertebrate


A new study has revealed that the sudden appearance of myelin in vertebrates, crucial for the rapid transmission of neural impulses, may have originated from the insertion of viral genetic material into our ancestors' DNA. Myelin enhances cognitive abilities and movement speed. Myelin appears exclusively in vertebrates and is absent in invertebrates. This evolutionary leap, which coincides with the development of neural structures like the brain, might have been triggered by a retroviral infection. The study suggests that retroviruses, which can integrate their RNA into the host's DNA, played a critical role in this process. This finding could also have implications for understanding and treating myelin-related diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Notably, about 40 percent of mammalian DNA comprises remnants of ancient viral infections, indicating that viruses have had a profound impact on animal evolution.

For me, it is particularly interesting to consider that a hostile takeover by a virus might have been a pivotal moment in the evolution of complex life forms.

1 comment:

  1. As much as it freaks me out to consider this, it is very fascinating. Myelin is like the insulating armor of neurons, so it's like these Retroviruses morphed into thar piece of armor we still wear today.