Human pheromones and the viruses that make us
June 14th, 2012 1:42 PM by Carl Zimmer in A Planet of Viruses, Evolution, Medicine, Top posts |
Excerpt: “On rare occasion, a retrovirus may infect an egg. Now something odd may happen. If the egg becomes fertilized and gives rise to a whole adult individual, all the cells in its body will carry that virus. And if that individual has offspring, the virus gets carried down to the next generation.”
I’m struck by the parallels with The Viruses That Make Us: A Role For Endogenous Retrovirus In The Evolution Of Placental Species by Luis P. Villarreal, which was brought to my attention by Greg Bear. Among his other excellent works, Bear wrote two science fiction novels that incorporated ERV-driven adaptive evolution, and pheromonal communication, which is as essential to communication in a new species of humans as it is in microbes.
Pheromones, as we now know, are the chemicals that control nutrient chemical-dependent reproduction in all species. It seems likely that ERVs, including human ERVs (HERVs) cause the changes in intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression that allow us to use olfaction and odor receptors in the clear evolutionary trail that can be followed from unicellular organisms to insects to humans.
The HERVs, for example, need only alter a cell’s ability to metabolize nutrient chemicals (food) to cause downstream effects on every cell of any organism. The metabolism of the nutrient chemicals to pheromones does the rest in the context of adaptive evolution.
For those who question whether there is sufficient evidence across species for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, one need only examine the trail that begins with the nutrient-dependent ecological niche of organisms. The metabolism of the nutrients to pheromones establishes a social niche. In multicellular organisms with a nervous system, ecological and social niche construction contribute equally to the construction of a neurogenic niche (a group of nerve cells) that enables brain development, which facilitates construction of our cognitive niche. My cognitive niche, for example, allows me to recognize patterns, like the design in biology that is apparent in the adaptive evolution that results from ecological, social, neurogenic, and cognitive niche construction.