Virus Z: A Thought Experiment | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

Virus Z: A Thought Experiment

Let's run a thought experiment on a hypothetical virus we'll call Virus Z, a run-of-the-mill respiratory variety not much different from other viruses which are 1) very small; 2) mutate rapidly and 3) infect human cells and modify the cellular machinery to produce more viral particles.

Like other viruses, Virus Z continually improves the odds of future replication via the natural selection of any mutations which improve its replication capabilities. Since viruses need host cells to replicate, the key advantages selected through mutation are evading hosts' immune responses to invading viruses.

As in all organisms in which advantageous mutations arise and eventually spread throughout the organism's genetic instructions, the natural selection of mutations in viruses is not teleological, meaning there is no set goal to the evolutionary process other than whatever is advantageous in a particular setting.

To use a football analogy, the viral mutations don't have a goal of advancing 10 yards to get a first down and continue down the field to score a touchdown. Any mutation which helps the virus evade getting tackled by the host immune system is conserved, as the viruses which get tackled and gobbled up by the immune system are no longer replicating, while the virus which evades the immune system continues replicating. Whatever mutations that enable it to evade getting tackled are conserved in the genetic coding of all future viruses.

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