November 23, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Are Giant Viruses Alive?

Another New Form of Life Discovered:
The World Gets More Complicated

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

One of the most rewarding aspects of science, especially life science, is that it and its devotees can be compared to a family that lived in a large stately old mansion. One day the father noticed some hinges on one of the large bookcases in the library. He then discovered the bookcase is on wheels and pivots like a door. He swung it open and discovered a large room he never knew existed full of old rare books, paintings and other valuables.

In biology, every now and then, a new form of life is discovered, such as the microscopic Archaea. This new life-form is similar to bacteria but yet so very different that it is considered another domain of life, in addition to Bacteria and Eukarya. The many differences between bacteria and archaea include the fact that bacteria contain peptidoglycan in the cell wall and archaea do not. Bacteria use a lipid bilayer cell membrane but archaea use either a lipid bilayer or a monolayer. Bacteria contain fatty acids on the cell membrane, whereas archaea contain phytanyl.

Other differences include bacteria having a single replication origin, archaea have multiple replication origins. Bacteria use the Calvin cycle for respiration like plants, but archaea do not. Lastly, bacteria use a single RNA polymerase; archaea use multiple RNA polymerases. These basic structural differences were considered so significant by taxonomists that Archaea was formally placed in its own domain.

A New Form of Life?

Viruses consist of RNA or DNA, few enzymes and other proteins surrounded by a protein coat and/or membrane. Because Viruses have no internal working machinery, they depend on the cells they infect in order to reproduce. In this case, reproduction means making almost perfect copies of themselves. Thus, they are not alive, but rather are properly termed gene machines. In 2003, Professor La Scola reported the discovery of the first giant virus, called mimivirus. Since then, hundreds more so-called giant viruses, some larger than bacteria, have been discovered – blurring the division between viruses and living cells.[1]

Specifically, “Giant virion sizes can reach up to 2.3 µm, making them visible by optical microscopy. They have large genomes of up to 2.5 Mb that encode proteins involved in the translation apparatus.”[2] These giant viruses even have some of the machinery required to produce mRNA’s from their master DNA code. Ironically, they are prone to infection from viruses.

Figure 1. ATP synthase. Each colored ball represents its molecular structure. It is enormously complex. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another Giant Virus Recently Discovered

All giant viruses differ greatly from all previously described viruses. Now other new giant viruses have been discovered called pandoraviruses. The one discussed here is Pandoravirus massiliensis.  Because evidence now exists that they can  generate a membrane potential (an electrical gradient) across their outer membrane, they must be able to produce energy. The purpose of the electrical gradient is unknown. Normally it drives the ATP synthase machine, but pandoraviruses don’t have an ATP synthase machine (see figure 1 and 2).

ATP synthase is the enzyme machine that catalyzes the formation of the energy storage molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The ATP synthase machine uses proton (H+) motive force to link inorganic phosphate (Pi) onto adenosine diphosphate (ADP) forming ATP. ATP is the main source of energy for all known forms of life. The virus P. massiliensis also has genes that code for enzymes similar to those required to generate energy. Enzymes “involved in energy metabolism revealed that 8 predicted proteins of P. massiliensis exhibited low sequence identities with defined proteins involved in the universal tricarboxylic acid cycle (acetyl Co-A synthase; citrate synthase; aconitase; isocitrate dehydrogenase; α-ketoglutarate decarboxylase; succinate dehydrogenase;[and] fumarase).”[3]

These findings are evidence that this “virus” is not like any type known and are, in this one way at least, like prokaryote cells. Conversely, so revolutionary are the conclusions that this work needs to be replicated to confirm the results. Extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence. If the findings are confirmed, the next steps are to understand these strange creatures better. If confirmed all Pandoraviruses may still be classified as viruses, but only because they “replicate by an assembly process inside of a host cell.” [4]

Figure 2. A simplified diagram showing how ATP synthase works to charge ADP to produce ATP using hydrogen ions (H+, i.e., protons). (Wikimedia Commons).

The Problem for Evolution

A new form of life requires evolutionists to attempt to build models that indicate its potential evolution, in other words, create just-so stories. One somewhat flippant example is “Giant viruses may just be small viruses that stole [their] hosts’ genes.”[5] This is problematic since they discovered a life-form that has some traits of viruses and some of cells. It is not a transition from non-life to life, but rather a unique mosaic of traits selected from different life-forms.

From what we know now, Pandoraviruses possess a fully functional energy producing system, not a system that is evolving into another new system. They, like all viruses, have gene(s) encoding capsid protein(s) and, as observed in transmission electron microscopy studies, utilize host cellulose production to build their tegument (covering). Questions that need to be answered include: What function do Pandoraviruses serve in human and all other life-forms? The fact that new research has supported the view that giant viruses are widespread suggests they have a major impact on the planet. Exactly what this is has yet to be determined. Will they exist as functional gene machines until damaged by cosmic radiation or the background radiation existing all around us? Do infections by normal viruses keep them in ecological balance? If not, what does keep them in ecological balance?

Summary

This new form of life called giant viruses, specifically the example reviewed here, Pandoravirus massiliensis, illustrates the fact that, as our knowledge of the natural world increases, the complexity and variety of life found in our world also increases. Consequently, evolution has more to explain, forcing the theory farther away from reality. For example, when it was believed in the 1800s that the cell was a simple structure, it was much easier to explain its existence by evolution than today. The enormous complexity of the eukaryote cell is now recognized as one of the most complex machines in the universe. Consequently, explaining its evolution has produced many attempts, all of which have failed.[6]

References

Bergman’s historical examination undermines the claim the evolution is science.

[1] Le Page, Michael. 2020 Viruses have been shown to produce their own energy for the first time.  New Scientist October 30, 2020. p. 19. Also online at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2258107-viruses-have-been-shown-to-produce-their-own-energy-for-the-first-time/#ixzz6eLkBNIj.

[2] Aherfi, et al., 2020. Tricarboxylic acid cycle and proton gradient in Pandoravirus massiliensis: Is it still a virus? https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.09.21.306415.

[3] Aherfi, et al., 2020.

[4] Le Page, 2020, p. 19.

[5] Wong, Sam. 2017. Giant viruses may just be small viruses that stole hosts’ genes. New Scientist, April 6. bioRxiv, DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.21.306415

[6] This is covered in detail in Chapter 3 in my book Evolution’s Blunders, Frauds and Forgeries. Atlanta, GA: CMI Publishing (2017).


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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