Could an Ancient Virus Be Responsible for Human Consciousness? - RiseEarth

Could an Ancient Virus Be Responsible for Human Consciousness?


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by Tim Collins; Mailonline

Scientists claim our ability to have thoughts may have evolved from alien genetic code over the past half billion years

Experts studied origins of a gene which is vital to higher thinking in humans
They think a virus infected a four-limbed mammal around 400 million years ago
Over the millennia this evolved into the Arc gene found in the brains of humans
This gene is believed to be vital to how our nerves transmit information


An ancient virus that injected humans with 'alien genetic code' gave our ancestors the capacity for higher reasoning, new research suggests.

Human consciousness may be the result of a string of instructions making its way into our genome through an infection in the early days of four-legged species, experts say


The information contained within the viral cells became part of our genetic makeup, where it evolved into the Arc gene over the past half billion years.

This gene is believed to be vital to how our nerves transmit information and may be responsible for our capacity to think and feel in the way we do.

An ancient virus gave our ancestors the capacity for higher reasoning, new research suggests. Human consciousness may be the result of a string of genetic code making its way into our brains through an infection in the early days of our species, experts say (stock image)

The claims are made in two separate papers published in the journal Cell, produced by international teams of researchers led by the University of Massachusetts and the University of Utah.

They discuss the origins of the Arc gene, a string of DNA first discovered in 1995.

While it may seem surprising that a virus could become part of the human genome, it is believed to be a common occurrence.

A study published in Cell in 2016 found that between 40 and 80 per cent of the human genome developed thanks to ancient viral invasions.

Experts believe a chance encounter between a four-limbed creature with a virus around 400 million years ago may have paved the way for memory in mammals.

Over the next half a billion years, this evolved into the Arc gene found in humans, which is now a critical part of how we think.

Speaking to Alphr, Dr Jason Shepherd, who worked on the Utah study, said: 'While we think that virus infections and outbreaks are a bad thing, and of course they are, these bouts of infection also provide new source material for evolution to create new genes that ultimately become beneficial for the organism.

'It's also really interesting that despite Arc evolving from an event roughly 400 million years ago, the biology seems to be preserved.

'We also think there are other genes in the human genome that contain similar elements of viral origin that may also have preserved properties.'

Arc packages up genetic information and sends it from one nerve cell to another.

The information contained within the viral cells became part of our own genome, where it remains to this day as the Arc gene. This gene is vital to how our nerves transmit information and may be responsible for our capacity to think and feel in the way we do (stock image)

These packages function in a similar way to viruses, which hijack cells in our bodies by injecting them with genetic code that turn them into factories for producing more of the virus.

When a a synapse fires in the brain, Arc writes down its own genetic instructions in coding molecules called RNA.

These molecules are structurally almost identical to DNA and are created by it as a messenger, telling other cells what to do.
HOW DO VIRUSES WORK?

A virus particle, or virion, is made up of three parts: a set of genetic instructions, either DNA or RNA; coat of protein that surrounds the DNA or RNA to protect it; a lipid membrane, which surrounds the protein coat.

Unlike human cells or bacteria, viruses don't contain the chemical machinery, called enzymes, needed to carry out the chemical reactions to divide and spread.

They carry only one or two enzymes that decode their genetic instructions, and need a host cell, like bacteria, a plant or animal, in which to live and make more viruses.

When a virus infects a living cell, it hijacks and reprograms the cell to turn it into a virus-producing factory.

Proteins on the virus interact with specific receptors on the target cell.

The virus then inserts its genetic code into the target cell, while the cell's own DNA is degraded.

The target cell is then 'hijacked', it begins using the virus' genetic code as a blueprint to produce more viruses.

The cell eventually bursts open to release the new, intact viruses that then infect other cells and begin the process again.

Once free from the host cell, the new viruses can attack other cells.

Because one virus can reproduce thousands of new viruses, viral infections can spread quickly throughout the body.
The RNA produced by Arc is enveloped in a virus-like capsule, which protects the information inside while it travels between neurons, transmitting its message once it arrives safely.

Researchers found that without this RNA information, our synapses stop functioning correctly and die off.

Problems with the Arc gene are also linked to autism and other neurological conditions, including Alzheimer's and amnesia.
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