A Cosmic Vision of the Coronavirus. The creation of life starts so many many millions of years ago, but it still goes on today. Creation is not a moment, but a continual development, a process that goes on and on. But that is not all. All the elements and the celestial bodies are arranged according to their weight; the heaviest at the centre of the earth and the lighter ones farther away from the centre. It has made it possible for the water to remain in the low parts of our earth to form the oceans and the lakes. This force of gravity has also made it possible for the atmosphere to envelop our earth. There is another law which shows the cosmic work: all the celestial bodies exert a strong attraction upon the other. They exert, at the same time a force of attraction and one of repulsion; the gravity of the sun pulls the planets towards it, but the orbital movement of the planets compels them away. These forces maintain all the bodies in equilibrium, preventing them from crashing into one another or escaping. So maintenance of equilibrium in the universe is another cosmic rule. Yet there is another.
- Rob (Brighton)
All the celestial bodies constantly rotate around themselves and revolve around another celestial body. These movements of our earth prevent our it from burning on one side and freezing on another. This is another part of the cosmic work; the rotation of the earth that makes life possible. During that faraway period called the Archean Era (4000-2500 mya), in a certain perfect moment, with the right amount of heat and humidity and in the presence of a special combination of substances, life began. Due to a marvelous chemical phenomenon, the first living cell was born. These first bacteria fed on chemicals – hydrogen sulfides and carbon monoxide found near hydro thermal vents. This new cosmic agent, life, was given a special gift – that of sensitivity to its environment. This sensitivity allowed it to fulfill its cosmic task; to feed as much as they can, to multiply as much as they can and to take up as much space as they can. Millions of years later a change came and some of these bacteria began to feed on carbon dioxide, but to do this they needed direct help from the sun. Touched by light from the sun, they were able to turn water and carbon dioxide into a glucose molecule, giving off oxygen as a waste produce. To the bacteria at that time oxygen was toxic, but a few managed to find a way to use this oxygen, combined with glucose, to give energy. This was very efficient and so this form of life flourished alongside those feeding on carbon dioxide and sunlight. For millions of years these cells, the beginnings of life, went on making copies of themselves. To make sure the copies are exact, the cells contained a special molecule made up of proteins, which contained the code for that cell. The molecule is called Deoxyribonucleic Acid or DNA for short. Occasionally experiments happened in the copying – the DNA was not copied exactly but included some changes. These experiments could result in a change in the daughter cell. Sometimes the experiment could be advantageous, in which case the daughter would be able to thrive and make lots of copies, at other times it would be disadvantageous and the daughter may not survive or be able to make so many copies.
It was through one such experiment that photosynthesis began and it was another experiment in the copying of a cell’s DNA that allowed some cells to be able to get energy from oxygen. The keeping of the successful experiments and the discarding or dying out of the unsuccessful changes is the process we call evolution. Often it is not known what will be successful until a change in the environment comes and then one form of life that had seemed so successful – the trilobites, the cephalopods or the dinosaurs - find that they can no longer thrive. But out of the seeming chaos we see a pattern; it is not the strongest that survive but those that love more; those that take greater care of their young. In my life time, as we have been able to reveal some of the mystery of the DNA’s code, we have found another more rapid way that experiments with life can happen. Instead of the changes occurring as the DNA is copied, whole organisms, which had evolved separately until that point, joined together, one inside the other. It happened back a billion years or so after the first forms of life emerged around 2700 mya. By now, for some time, some larger cells had engulfed not just the molecules they needed for food, but smaller bacteria cells. But around 2700 mya instead of being digested, the engulfed bacteria survived. The bacteria that survived were the ones able to turn oxygen and glucose into energy. They were so good at this that they were able to share some of the energy with the cell that now was their home. This worked so well that the DNA of the bacteria (called mitochondria) became incorporated into the DNA of the cell, and when the cell made copies of itself, the copy included the mitochondria. From this coming together of two unrelated forms of life, a new life from evolved that could successfully use oxygen. This was very successful, and these became the animals and plants and all the other multi-cellular organisms. The plants separated from the animals when then took this a step further and, using the same technique, incorporated those light-loving bacteria that fed on C02. These bacteria, which we know today as the green chloroplasts in plant cells, allowed plants also to photosynthesize. So while all living things work selfishly for themselves, but the real aim is still the unconscious obedience to the great cosmic plan. It is only for humans that this real aim can be conscious. There are many examples of this unconscious cosmic work in life around us – the oxygen discarded by the plants that gives life to the animals, the insects that pollinate the flowers, the mycorrhizal fungi which sheath the roots of trees passing minerals to the trees and getting sugars in return, the huge forests of the carboniferous periods provided food for the giant reptiles, and so the reptiles developed greatly. The eggs of the reptiles and the huge tress provided food and protection for the birds and the mammals. At the same time the birds and the mammals prepared the environment for the last animal to arrive; humans. We must look at life in a profound way – to look superficially we see only greedy and selfish forms of life, but this type of greediness and selfishness brings equilibrium to life. Each being takes what another disposes of. That which is poisonous for one, often causing death, represents life for another. Each being, in one way or another, gives its contribution to the progress of evolution, the progress of life.
Most of the experiments of life have led to greater complexity, but one form of life was given a different strategy – to multiply in the simplest possible way. It’s thought these forms of life once began as bacteria-like cells but instead of growing they discarded everything; cell membranes and cytoplasm all gone. All that was left was a few strands of DNA (or a single strand version of DNA called RNA), surrounded by a layer of protein molecules. These forms of life are tiny 20 to 100 nm across (that’s the thickness of between 200 and 1000 atoms). You may wonder what cosmic task such tiny, helpless, forms of life could perform? Well, it seems their task is the sharing of chunks of pre-evolved DNA so that, along with the occasional changes that occur when DNA makes copies of itself, whole new systems can be patched in. In this way life can make giant leaps forward as well as tiny steps. If we look at the evolution of life, we see a progression towards ever-greater care of the young. We see fewer offspring, but more love and more protection given to them. Perhaps one of the greatest of these steps was from the laying of eggs and the development of the embryo outside of the body to the placental mammals that loved their young so much they carried them within their bodies until birth. But when they first tried to do this, the mothers’ immune system was too strong and rejected the life growing inside her. Nor would the placenta or shell bind inside the mother. A solution was needed. One of these tiny organisms – like some kind of angel - fused with the cells in a zygote and patched into the tiny offspring the code for a protein called called syncyin-1. This protein allowed the placenta to attach to the mother, and suppressed the mother’s immune system so the offspring – unprotected by a shell – was not rejected by the mother. Thanks to this marvelous tiny organism the first placental mammals evolved from their egg-laying relatives and eventually you and I were born. How different the world would be if this minuscule speck of life had not intervened! And what is the name we give to the tiny organism that performed this mysterious and seemingly miraculous unconscious service: a virus. An individual virus organism is called a virion. Virions are the most numerous biological entities on earth – it is estimated that there are around 1031 present today. They are everywhere – you probably breathe in around 100 million every day. Although they have only been discovered in the last 100 or so years (1898) , the word virus is a Latin word meaning toxin or poison because –understandably- to begin with we only saw the infections they caused in plants and animals. The common cold, influenza, chicken pox, Ebola, HIV and Covid-19 are all viral infections which affect humans. We didn’t know that despite the pain and heartache illness can cause, it is thanks to a single virus that mammals like you and me exist. Who know now many other interventions we will discover viruses have made in the story of evolution? (parasitic wasp example) Viruses are so small and simple they need to be able to slip inside a host cell and use that cell’s machinery to make new copies of itself. When this happens most host cells die but some viruses don’t harm the cell’s function.
Like any other population viruses have a need for a particular environment to multiply, it just happens that their habitat is cells including everything from bacteria to humans. Like every other form of life they need to reproduce and make copies of themselves. The protein molecule surface of an individual virion contains multiple copies of the same molecule, which has evolved to fit the proteins on outside of a particular cell of a particular species. Influenza virus, for example, typically contains 500–1000 copies, whereas HIV contains only about a dozen copies. A virion’s machinery is so efficient that each cell infected by even a single virion can produce about a million new virions so that there can be a few million virions in every milliliter of infected blood. So what does your body do to respond? Cells can’t ‘see’ inside themselves, but they display a sample of all their proteins on the outside of the cell. This allows so other special cells of the immune system called T-cells to detect problems. If they detect virus proteins, they kill the cell so that the virus can’t replicate. But some viruses evolved to suppress the release of proteins to the cells surface so they can’t bee seen. But the body has another type of cell called a natural killer cell or NK cell which can detect cells that don’t have enough proteins on their surface, and if it finds these, it kills them as a precaution. Your body also contains an incredible 10 billion types of antibody – a protein molecule designed to attached and neutralise unwanted particles – when one of these successfully attaches to a virion a signal is sent to the white blood cells to make more of it – an each of these cells can make 2000 a second! Vaccines contains dead or weakened version of the virus to give your body a head start. It recognises the vaccine as a virus and starts making the antibodies for that virus. That means that when that virus enters your body again, your body already has millions of antibodies circulating and ready. One reason Children’s House children more often have runny noses and temperatures is because their body is experiencing some of these viruses and bacteria for the first time. With many viruses – like chicken pox – once you’ve had it you are unlikely to be infected again because when the virus enters you body, the antibodies recognise it and disable it before the virions can start entering your cells. (Healthy diet and strong immune system) (Story of Louis Pasteur and small pox) To understand why some viruses are more harmful, we need to think about the life from a virus’ point of view. The virus’ task is to make copies of itself. Once it infects a cell and makes a million or so copies, there have to be other cells nearby for some of these virions to colonise. In water there may be other bacteria nearby, in an animal, there must be another animal of the same species nearby, and the virus must have some way of being transported from one to another. If the virus makes it’s host too sick, the host may withdraw or die, in which case the virus may not be able to reach a new host which doesn’t help the virus.
But if the host is still well enough to interact with others of its kind, and the virus can trigger some mechanism to travel between the two (a cough or sneeze), then it may be able to find a new host in which to reproduce. The virus I mentioned at the start that caused the evolution of placental mammals, came from a family of viruses called retroviruses. These insert their genetic code into the host cell’s DNA. When this happens, the virus’ code becomes part of the host’s and is passed down through generations of cells and, if it is in the sperm or egg, through descendants. It is thought that around 8% of human DNA has come from viruses in this way. So while all living things are working for their own ends; to make as many copies as they can, to eat as much as they can, to take up as much space as they can, the unconscious service, one to another is more mysterious, more complex that we could have ever imagined. Its not just that earthworms aerate the soil which helps the plants, or bacteria in the guts of animals help digest their food; there is even a class of life – so tiny we measure it on the scale of atoms – that unconsciously transfers genetic code from one evolved species to another. Sometimes these experiments cause harm to one form of life, at other times they bring life further along the path towards love and care. So next time you hear of a mammal becoming pregnant, or see someone cough or sneeze, give a thought to the virions going about their unconscious cosmic task, obeying the laws given to them as the creation of life continues.