A New Discovery Upends What We Know About Viruses

(theatlantic.com)

209 points | by lnguyen 103 days ago

9 comments

  • chmod775 102 days ago

    > “But we were also scared about it being a [mistake]. We took six years to verify it.”

    In the field of psychology (and likely others) the results would have been published six years ago.

    This shows how scientific standards and diligence can vary from field to field.

    • fifnir 102 days ago

      I don't see why everything published needs to be the absolute truth (which of course nothing can be).

      If they had published six years ago, the whole community would have been able to validate and confirm in those six years, instead of just their own lab. Someone in a different lab might have had a better idea and the thing could be validated in two years instead of six.

      As long as results are transparently and reproducibly shared, knowledge is knowledge and there's no reason to hide it.

      • naasking 102 days ago

        Agreed, but there's no doubt some ego and prestige at stake for a) not wanting to look stupid for making an elementary mistake, and b) being the one to upend currently accepted wisdom. There's probably a balance to be struck between these, but sometimes it might just take 6 years.

        • tru3_power 102 days ago

          That’s very true for the scientific audience consuming the paper- but often times media outlets convey anything published as accurate

        • koheripbal 102 days ago

          On Social Media the results would have been published six years before the research even started and political tweets would have already labelled opponents for believing the wrong thing.

          • jmcqk6 102 days ago

            To turn this into a criticism of other fields is kind of ridiculous. You can easily find many examples of people in hard sciences rushing to publish - some to the point of having very significant consequences. Andrew Wakefield and vaccines and autism spring to mind. Cold fusion is another example.

            >This shows how scientific standards and diligence can vary from field to field.

            No they vary from person to person, journal to journal, school to school, lab to lab. Some fields might tend to do better than others, but why turn this into a field v. field issue?

            • ReptileMan 102 days ago

              Wakefield was fraud all along. So definitely not a good example.

              • jmcqk6 102 days ago

                Okay, just mix in another example instead. How about faster than light neutrinos?

                • ReptileMan 102 days ago

                  The scientists team from Italy deliberately let other people try and reproduce results before publishing and they actually refused to mwke claims. They found problem with the equipment.

                • RobertRoberts 102 days ago

                  In the spirit of science, I suggest you actually listen to what Wakefield says from his own mouth.

                  A few points most people don't know:

                  1. He wasn't against vaccines.

                  2. He found a "correlation" between gut inflammation and autism.

                  3. His paper in the 90s didn't say vaccines caused autism. (that I recall reading anyway)

                  • ReptileMan 102 days ago

                    He was shopping for lawsuit and he used shady laboratories IIRC. So he knew he wasn't doing proper science.

                    • RobertRoberts 102 days ago

                      Again, science, not politics or propaganda.

                      Listen to what he actually said. He knows his sample size was small, he knows he couldn't make any absolute conclusions at the beginning. He simply found something unexpected and reported on it.

                      I would challenge you to read his papers, go to youtube and watch a presentation of his and see what he actually says, not repeat accusations from others against him. I think you will be surprised that he doesn't believe/teach most of what people accuse him of.

                      Edit: Merck caught lying about their measles vaccines. (an actual lawsuit from 2 virologists, the court papers are linked in the article)

                      https://www.courthousenews.com/Class-Says-Merck-Lied-About-M...

            • coldtea 102 days ago

              >It is a truth universally acknowledged among virologists that a single virus, carrying a full set of genes, must be in want of a cell.

              I see what he did there.

              • timdellinger 102 days ago

                (For those who might not recognize it: this is a clever play on the first line of Jane Austin's novel Pride and Prejudice.)

                • azeotropic 102 days ago

                  I think we can legitimately differ on whether it's clever or not.

                  • chmod775 102 days ago

                    It's clever because it does not stand out to people who haven't read Pride and Prejudice, but adds a little something for people who did.

              • black-tea 103 days ago

                Very cool that this has been observed but I actually think this kind of thing is inevitable given the way viruses work and their rapid rate of mutation. We've known for many years that viruses like influenza use different parts of a cell to reproduce different parts of the virion. They can also mix up their genomes when multiple virions infect the same cell. Furthermore we know that this can lead to genomes to support each other, for example a genome that is great at infecting cells but poor at reproducing will end being reproduced by the machinery of a different genome. It's not hard to imagine this going the next step and not even requiring every part of the genome to be present in a cell.

                Viruses are the most fascinating part of biology. An inevitability caused by a security flaw in the way genetics works.

                • tdmule 103 days ago

                  Ed Yong rocks. Another well written science piece that is easy to digest without drifting into sensationalism.

                  • sohkamyung 102 days ago

                    Ed Yong's book, "I Contain Multitudes" is also a good read about the microbiome.

                    I believe he is in the process of writing another book, this one on the animal senses [1]

                    [1] https://twitter.com/edyong209/status/1096410078033465351

                    • vibrio 102 days ago

                      I am also a fan of Yong, but "Upends what we know about virues" is a bit sensational. The article interesting for sure, but lately it seems that every book or study "turns Darwin on his head" or puts us in a "post-Pasteur era". I"m not even going to think about Cacner headlines. All overstatement of interesting science findings.

                      upend (ŭp-ĕndˈ) v.To stand, set, or turn on one end: upend an oblong box. v.To invalidate, destroy, or change completely; overthrow: upended a popular legend. v.To win victory over; defeat.

                      • overthemoon 102 days ago

                        Can't say for sure re this article, but often editors choose headlines.

                        • vibrio 102 days ago

                          Sure, but as far as I'm concerned if you get the byline you own the content. Again I like Yong, not faulting him but rather a general trend in media. I'm being a science curmudgeon.

                        • majkinetor 102 days ago

                          So, distributed virus that keeps specialized factories around and ships products to other parts of the "world" is just another fact od life?

                          • vibrio 99 days ago

                            I said in my initial post that it was interesting. I don't think it "invalidates, destroys, or changes completely what we know about viruses". My gripe is with the sensational, click-bait title.

                        • oska 102 days ago

                          Just to offer a different opinion, I actually found this article not so easy to read. And the cliche of paraphrasing the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice annoyed me a little.

                          • mekazu 102 days ago

                            Yeah? I’m off to read some Jane Austen. Seeya!

                        • exabrial 103 days ago

                          So microservices... but viruses.

                          • norcalli 103 days ago

                            Before I read the article, I thought this was a trite comment, but instead it's an apt analogy. It really is a distributed system of components whose byproducts can propagate between/through cell firewall.

                            • navaati 102 days ago

                              Now wait until computer virus writers use the idea ! A virus distributing little pieces of its payload over several binaries !

                              Ah, that's probably common already…

                              • s_y_n_t_a_x 102 days ago

                                I mean isn't that what a trojan technically does.

                                A small binary that embeds itself, opens a backdoor, and downloads more intrusive code.

                                • 8note 102 days ago

                                  but what about multiple Trojans at once, that each download a piece of more intrusive code, but it only starts up once all the pieces are available on the same network?

                                  • navaati 95 days ago

                                    Yeah that's more what I meant by "distributed". Doesn't have to be over the network though, loads of side channels on a machine…

                            • nabnob 102 days ago

                              Does this have implications for other areas of biology outside of virology? These seems like it radically changes our understanding of how genes work.

                              • aaavl2821 102 days ago

                                how do the proteins get into plant cells? i know very little about plant cells but in humans, proteins don't often cross the cell membrane

                                • asimjalis 102 days ago

                                  Basically viruses are JavaScript modules.

                                  • kavalg 102 days ago

                                    LOL :)

                                    And not only that. After million years of evolution there are still some JS like viruses left.

                                  • dreamling 102 days ago

                                    I love the opening line.