Apr 20, 2020
Professor James Shapiro shares his thoughts with listeners on all things viral. In this exploration of molecular biology, he touches on
James A. Shapiro has been with
the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the
University of Chicago since 1973. He has written several books,
including Evolution: a View from the
21st century. He begins by explaining some of the
genome editing virus interactions bring about, including in the
virus and bacteria-as-host relationship. He describes the
protection phages (viruses that inhabit bacteria) offer bacteria
from protozoans, for example.
He adds examples of mammal and retrovirus interactions and genome editing, citing placental development as a result. These, he comments, are examples of how viruses introduce new elements into evolving organisms, leading to his virus-as-R & D analogy.
Dr. Shapiro also describes this as a one-way transfer system and notes that viruses are part of what we call the biosphere. They are vehicles for cells communicating with each other. On their own, they can't do much, yet they can enact change on their hosts. He expands on some of this molecular biology phenomena and explains that viruses are sources of new information that may be useful to evolving organisms at critical junctions in evolution.
He also offers an exploration of
cancer behavior and evolution. Cancer is so destructive, he says,
because cellular behaviors are enacted that wouldn't normally be,
yet cancer uses normal evolutionary processes to change. He's
working on understanding cancer by comparing its evolution with
organismal evolution and noting the parallels.
Finally, he discusses his theory of cellular cognition, and that in the near future, we will think about cells in a more systemic, cognitive way—ultimately learning about living organisms is really learning about how systems behave.
For more, see his lab website at http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/, which links to his research, books, and past blogs and articles.