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Viruses: Nature’s Hackers

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Viruses: Nature’s Hackers

Over a billion years of evolution has gifted us with DNA that is very well adapted to the environment. Each strand of DNA is like a bit of computer code, and surprisingly, they are open source code. The easiest way to modify the code is through viruses, which have evolved specifically to splice new genes into the host’s DNA. The question is: does mankind have the right to tamper with this code? The answer lies in the nature of mankind; humans are explorers who have pushed beyond every boundary we have encountered. While the genetic engineering of viruses has obvious risks, they are outweighed by the potential gain in medical and technological advances and in the sheer thrill of going into the unknown.

Viruses evolved in cells to modify the cell’s DNA; that is their purpose, so is natural to try to manipulate them in an organic setting with the goal of curing disease. The hard part of getting DNA into a cell is that one has to cut the DNA, put in the desired strands, and close it all back up, without killing the cell. As Joe Palca a science specialist says, Viruses are a cheaper way to provide gene therapy. The virus can be transfused into the patient’s blood where they will deliver the new genes to the cells. After the virus is injected it will do all the work. Someday genetic therapy will be as easy as modifying a virus and injecting it into the patient. Indeed, as Andrea Pavirani, a molecular biologist, says, "Viruses exist to remake themselves. The way they do this is by infecting cells and taking over their genetic machinery. Thus a virus is an ideal delivery truck for a new gene" (qtd. in Palca). Viruses are the perfect tool to modify DNA, as they have naturally evolved this ability. To find or cre...

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