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ased on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, we have lost some biological abilities and traits in the process of evolution, however, we managed to also keep some. DNA is the most complex piece of data that we have seen in our existence and it is still very difficult to decrypt it down to every line and dot, but as we advance we get better at reading each piece of information from human DNA.

Some believe that the reason we exist is hidden within our own DNA. To give you a better perception, one person’s DNA contains around 455 exabytes of information (one exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes), and if that does not seem an astronomical number to you, Google servers go through 20 petabytes of data daily and a common computer holds around one terabyte (1,000 gigabytes).

We can’t live without viruses

Some recent research has found a very weird protein within a patient’s body that was produced by a virus. This protein, however, seemed to not really play a role (neither negative nor beneficial) towards the human body. The protein, named Hemo, is quite weird as it was produced during the time a woman was pregnant (the patient mentioned earlier). This protein was formed in the placenta of the woman by a gene that came from a virus that was defined by the University of Oxford as being over 100 million years old.

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. Nitrogen: blue, Oxygen: red, carbon: green, hydrogen: white, phosphorous: orange (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ana Katzourakis, a virologist from the University of Oxford has recently published a paper based on this weird virus. The paper focuses on why the virus produces this protein as well as why it does not harm the human body. Furthermore, it also touches upon how the virus may hibernate and affect the human body in the future when combined with a different virus or bacteria.

Research carried out in the field of virology also tells us that there are many different viruses within our DNA that are in a state of “hibernation.” Some of the active ones are actually protecting us from various diseases, as the human body kept evolving it also produced immunity towards different types of diseases and illnesses throughout history. It is also true that some of them cause us harm such as a higher risk of producing cancerous cells.

Retroviruses

Another group within our DNA is known by experts as retroviruses, a group that also includes HIV. A retrovirus can invade the cells of a host and insert its own genes into the DNA cells of the host. This may have been a way that these viruses, said to be millions of years old, may have been kept in the genes of our ancestors. These viral genes utilize the process of cell reproduction in order to reproduce new cells that are already infected with the virus (containing the virus gene within the DNA).

In the case that a retrovirus infects an egg or a sperm cell, the DNA can be transmitted to the next generation, justifying the possible existence of these ancient viruses. Those that are infected with endogenous retroviruses will keep transmitting the virus to future generations. However, as shown above, our human body has been able to evolve its own immune system in order to protect itself from endogenous retroviruses.

That does not mean that all organisms have successfully evolved, with some cancer patients, it can be that the cancerous tumors are formed from endogenous retroviruses. However, at the same time, research has shown that these endogenous retroviruses produce proteins that are vital to the evolution of the fetus during the nine months of pregnancy.

Doctor Odile Heidmann has also done a lot of research on the Hemo protein and the importance it has to our human body. Whilst there is still a lot of research to be done in order to understand its specific use, she assured everyone that protein plays a vital role in our body and it is not just a useless gene that we have inherited from our ancestors.

The first theory that has been proposed by experts is that the Hemo protein helps the tissue form in the fetus. That is the reason why Hemo is only produced within the placenta. Besides this proving once again that we have been created through evolution, it also goes to show that evolution is meant to take place, as the viruses from 100 million-years-ago, may be the key to further evolution and maybe life itself.

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