Linnaean System Overhaul: What to do with Viruses?  |  evolution news

Linnaean System Overhaul: What to do with Viruses? | evolution news

Image: Carl Linnaeus, by Alexander Roslin, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

An open access article at Biological Reviews is worth a look. See “Renewal of the Linnaean taxonomy: a proposal for restructuring the highest levels of the natural system”. Interestingly, one of the authors is the biochemist David Speijer. remember him? Back in 2020, as biologist Jonathan Wells recently summarized,

[Speijer] recommended that web searches hosted by tech giants explicitly discriminate against intelligent design; If the tech giants resist, the government “should make them,” he wrote. In particular, Speijer recommended “mandatory color-coded banners warning of consistent factual error or unscientific content and masquerading as science”.

The setting for this remarkable call for government censorship of science was the Journal of Biology BioEssays. what dr Speijer, there were a few articles here evolution news.

But we digress

The authors, including Speijer, point out that viruses, by far the most common ‘biological’ (ie composed of nucleic acid and protein, but not cellular) objects on earth, require a category beyond the ‘domain’.

Most interesting, however, is their artful way of accommodating the truly amazing and unexpected diversity of mitochondria throughout the Eukaryan domain. See if you can see in this passage how the falsification of the original endosymbiotic hypothesis—that mitochondria are all modified alpha-Protetobacteria—becomes an evolutionary prediction (p. 9, emphasis added):

… a merging of two lineages leading to major molecular and evolutionary innovations seems to present an insurmountable challenge to a strictly cladistic approach to taxonomy … Another way of looking at this conundrum is that most researchers have tended to treat mitochondria as if they were they still have alpha proteobacteria. However, this approach leads to a taxonomic paradox. Mitochondria of different eukaryotic species have developed very differentlyand when treated as proteobacteria, Logic dictates that mitochondria of different eukaryote species should be described as a plethora of new species of Proteobacteria. But the idea of ​​such a bacterial tree mirroring the host tree is probably not advisable: the evolution of mitochondrion and cytoplasm is fully integrated.

Put more simply:

  1. The eukaryogenesis was peculiar: an unknown archaea cell engulfed an alpha proteobacterium, and they set up the household together.
  2. All mitochondria are thus the descendants of this singularity and should therefore not be fundamentally different.
  3. But mitochondria are amazingly different. See the data from Roger et al. here.1
  4. Don’t worry about (3) – “The evolution of mitochondrion and cytoplasm is fully integrated.”

The fact is that (4) is not a solution, but it nevertheless represents another catastrophe for the coherence of evolutionary theory. Any theory that cannot be challenged (i.e. tested) by data cannot be supported by data.

An imminent crisis

Finally, viruses represent an impending crisis (pp. 12-13, emphasis added):

Viruses have no equivalent of omnis cellula e cellula [all cells from cells] and are completely different from cellular life… Viruses, unlike the cellular world, do not have genes common to all, ie a single viral phylogenetic tree cannot be constructed. Recent evidence also suggests they are viruses polyphyletic originaccording to complex evolution scenarios, e.g. B. with different types of primordial replicons becoming viruses by recruiting host proteins for virion formation, and new groups of viruses constantly emerging by displacement of ancestral structural or even replication genes.

Put the bacteriophage in a sterile buffer – no bacteria – and nothing will replicate. The notion of a precellular or acellular “primordial replicon” is therefore a fantasy unsupported by any evidence. You’d think a reviewer or a journal editor would ask the authors, “Hey, what’s the observational basis for saying that viruses can replicate themselves without cells in their immediate vicinity?”

One would think. Right?


  1. “Studies of the mitochondria of various unicellular, multicellular, photosynthetic, and anaerobic eukaryotes have turned the essential textbook view of mitochondria as a single ‘type’ of organelle on its head; mitochondrial genomes and proteomes differ significantly in eukaryotic diversity” (p. R1178).

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