Saturday, September 12, 2009


Woah: This is fascinating. Bonkers, but fascinating.

And, no, viruses aren't living things.

They're actually complex, self-assembling macro-molecular aggregates.

In most cases a host-cell's DNA or RNA-replication systems are commandeered to do the 'reproductive' stuff. So they don't reproduce in the classical sense, or respire or excrete or do any of the, uh, normal stuff that you associate with living things. They have no 'Will to Move' - no auto-powered mobility systems - and no sensory apparatus or responsive 'behavioural' tics or tropes. They respond purely on the molecular n atomic levels: bouncing off things, sticking to other molecules (cell walls n stuff), free-floating brownian-like in fluid droplets, being propelled hither n thither. Some of them have protein 'shells' or sheaths peppered with peptide-chains that resemble convoluted TV-arials that act like keys, executing stereochemical twists, rotations and unfolds on the proteins of unsuspecting cell-walls that they collide with, causing them to undergo a sort of three-dimensional reconfiguration, so that they soften, or become soluble, opening up - like a door, if you like - to allow the viral particle to pass through into the host.

It's a reasonable metaphor, I 'spose, tho linguistically poor as it doesn't give you a sense of the Kirby-like grandeur of what's occuring here on such a tiny scale.

Viruses are sooo amazingly functionally elegant, but then they've prob. had a couple billion years to reach this state of molecular grace. Just think of them as clusters of molecules that can do stuff, rather than being 'alive'. And part of that 'doing stuff' has all sorts of ramifications on other, more complex biological systems. As well as fucking with our health, they've probably acted as a subtle evolutionary accelerator in the higher animal and plant kingdoms.

Viruses are the smallest article of clothing in the DNA-wardrobe.

(Tho some viruses use RNA as their minimal genetic template.)

It would be wrong to call them SmartMolecules - that term implies certain things that probably don't apply here - actually, I don't think there is a term for them; they just are. They also sit apart from our as-yet primitive notions of nano-engineering too - they were here before us and they're also an intimate part of us too - but as we start to build biostuff ourselves - as we almost certainly will - some new descriptive terminology will almost certainly arise for this class of not-quite-alive 'things' that are also an inherent part of virtually every biological system.

Someone should pay me to write about this shit. I dig it majorly.

Still, this has got me buzzing about the possibilty of 'Shadow-Viruses'...Quantum viruses that exist in hypothetical Either-Or/Maybe states. One of my recent Big Writing Projects - itself still in a state of flux - is a meditation on Quantum Life n life-forms, Q-Realities, etc. I'm calling this genre, um, Quantum Fantasy.




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