The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

A Viral Past

Studies on viruses (for example, by the US biologist Luis Villarreal) have also hinted at the possibility that genes could be “acquired” from an external organism, without any need to wait for millions of years of natural selection. A virus is a parasite that comes alive, and replicates, only while it feeds on host cells. This process takes place at the genetic level: the genetic instructions of the virus induce the host cell to manufacture the genes that the virus needs in order to assemble a copy of itself. Thus there is “genetic” contact between the virus and the host cell. Viruses may be the lowest form of life (in fact, most biologists don’t even agree that they are forms of life, because they are simpler than living cells), but their fast replication continuously creates new genes, and that process of gene manufacturing takes place inside another organism: the odds that some of those genes get “transferred” permanently to the organism are not negligible. Humans and bacteria share some genes, but those genes are not present in the organisms that should constitute the evolutionary chain from bacteria to humans: how did the intermediary species miss them? The easiest explanation is that somehow the genes of the bacteria “infected” the DNA of humans and became permanent residents of it. Villarreal suspects that the cell nucleus itself of the eukaryotes may have evolved from prokaryotes by, basically, viral infection: the eukaryotic cell might just be a permanently infected prokaryotic cell (the original cell plus its viral invader).


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