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Did viruses make mammals communicate with pheromones?

Posted on February 15, 2012 by James Kohl.

Mammals Made By Viruses

by Carl Zimmer

Source: Discover Magazine
Excerpt from the article at the link (above):

“The big picture that’s now emerging is quite amazing. Viruses have rained down on mammals, and on at least six occasions, they’ve gotten snagged in their hosts and started carrying out the same function: building placentas.”

My comments:

“The concept that viruses might play a fundamental role in the evolution of the complexity of cellular life, as here proposed, may seem novel to many, especially to evolutionary biologists (Villarreal, 2004, p. 310).”

Your article reminded me of past discussion on the evolutionary psychology yahoo group  that resulted from my mention of the 1532 genes and interactions among them in the context of sexual reproduction that requires the mammalian placenta (Lynch, Leclerc, May, & Wagner, 2011). I learned about the likely involvement of viruses when I was asked about the role of pheromones in species specific communication as might occur in a new human species—detailed by Greg Bear in 1999/2003 in two of his science fiction novels (see Bear, 2004). But his questions, presentation to the American Philosophical Society, and comments led me to LP Villarreal (2004), and other more recent works that contain background information on the involvement of viruses in the creation of new species (Villarreal, 2009; Villarreal & Witzany, 2009). These works make it more clear that “…viruses may well be the unseen creator that most likely did contribute to making us human (Villarreal, 2004, p. 322).”

Did they do this by epigenetically altering food acquisition behavior, pheromone production, and thus social behavior? Perhaps viruses are calibrating all mechanisms for both individual survival and for speciation across all species. If so, shall we credit them for all of Creation?


Bear, G. (2004). When Genes Go Walkabout. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 148(3), 324-331.

Lynch, V. J., Leclerc, R. D., May, G., & Wagner, G. P. (2011). Transposon-mediated rewiring of gene regulatory networks contributed to the evolution of pregnancy in mammals. Nat Genet, 43(11), 1154-1159.

Villarreal, L. P. (2004). Can Viruses Make Us Human? Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 148(3), 296-323.

Villarreal, L. P. (2009). Origin of group identity: viruses, addiction and cooperation. New York: Springer.

Villarreal, L. P., & Witzany, G. (2009). Viruses are essential agents within the roots and stem of the tree of life. J Theor Biol, 262(4), 698-710.



James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl

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