If you’ve ever had a cold, or a flu (Influenza) you know a virus when you see it. Misery for days, weeks. Sinus, fever, congestion, coughing, sneezing. Has it ever occurred to you to ask, “What good is a virus”?
What Good Is A Virus?
We are engaged in a fight for our personal and national survival. The threat from Coronavirus extends world-wide. COVIDn-19, the official designation (for Corona Virus, New, 2019) easily transmits across all human interactions. Touching, especially the face, coughing, sneezing, or blowing sprays droplets, which unless washed promptly, create an bronchial infection against which we have no immunity. Our body marshals our immune system to counteract the virus’ intrusion through the respiratory system. But given any underlying physical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD), or cancer, and we are vulnerable. So, we may well ask, “What good is a virus?”
We now have a wealth of information about this virus (Latin: poison). But before we look more deeply into what we have learned, I want to share some basic information to help put our current crisis into some perspective. Our ultimate goal will to look at our pandemic through the lens of God’s creation and His perspective. Already I have reflected on the perspective of the Book of Job.
In Subsequent blogs I will look at the origins of the Coronavirus, How to see our Crisis from God’s perspective, and How Christians have responded to this crisis. Now I want to back up to the beginning to answer: What good is a virus? Let’s begin with understanding about viruses, and their place in the cycle of life.
What is a Virus?
A virus exists on the border between a living and a non-living thing. Compared with bacteria, we can see the nature of a virus better. Bacteria are true living cells. Bacteria use nutrients as fuel to energize them and expel waste. But viruses cannot perform these functions. Strictly speaking, it is non-living. In order for one to grow, to produce more, they must attach themselves to another living cell. Tobacco growers identified the first virus in the late 1800’s, the tobacco mosaic virus. The word comes from the Latin meaning poison.
Are They Necessary for Life?
According to Anjeanette (“AJ”) Roberts, microbiologist at Reasons To Believe, it’s difficult to explain the existence of viruses in relation to the origin of life. Without living things, such as bacteria, there can be no viruses. Life as we know it, then, didn’t just “happen” “somehow,” or “accidentally.” A virus cannot exist until something living exists. Bacteria, able to reproduce up to double their numbers in under 1/2 hour, take inorganic material and make it useful for other living things. Left to themselves, however, single-cell bacterial growth would create a massive ooze, smothering all other forms of life. Viruses, however, outnumber bacteria by a factor of 10:1. They feed on bacteria; that keeps bacteria under control.
When a virus breaks open the bacteria, they release the stored organic materials, making them available to other living organisms. Yet they cannot replicate by themselves. They need other cells to infect in order to reproduce. “In 2012 there were over 200 identified viral species,” says Roberts, “infecting humans and an estimated three to four new viral species discovered every year.”
What Their Benefits?
What good are viruses? In addition to what AJ Roberts has told us about the value of viruses to complex forms of life, Hugh Ross identifies other benefits of viruses. They make possible significant growth in population and enable complex societies to form. In the cycle of water they provide necessary microscopic seeds to atmospheric moisture, enabling droplets to form in the way of rain, snow, sleet, hail, and mist. The widespread distribution of precipitation, then, enables vegetation, growth of food, and the feeding of large numbers of people around the world. This enables complex human societies to survive and flourish. “While dust and particles of soot can also serve as seeds or nuclei for the formation of raindrops and snow flakes,”says Ross, “viruses and bacterial fragments allow the initial ice crystals to form at warmer temperatures.”
In the carbon cycle of the earth. Viruses “and the bacterial fragments they create are carbonaceous substances” continues Ross. “Through their role in precipitation, they collect as vast carbonaceous sheets on the surfaces of the world’s oceans. These sheets or mats of viruses and bacterial fragments sink slowly and eventually land on the ocean floors. As they are sinking they provide important nutrients for deep-sea and benthic (bottom-dwelling) life. Plate tectonics drive much of the viral and bacterial fragments into Earth’s crust and mantle where some of that carbonaceous material is returned to the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions.”
In addition, Ross adds, viruses provide medical researchers with tools to fight cancer and cure genetic diseases.
What’s So Bad About This Corona Virus?
In the official World Health Organization (WHO) designation of COVIDn-19, the small letter n represents the word “new,” meaning that it’s a new mutation for which we, therefore, will have no experience–and no immunity. We all understand that any virus we encounter is met with our body’s aggressive counterattack through our immune system. With COVIDn-19, however, we are, helpless. As humans, with technologies at our fingertips, we can develop vaccines, and antidotes. We can also repurpose medications, as well as initiate mitigation measures and use medical equipment to aid our fight against this painful and deadly virus.
Next: Understanding Our Pandemic.
[Sources: Image: Zika Virus. Purdue University/Kuhn and Rossman research groups. Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness: A microbiologist reflects on the problem of evil in human diseases. Interview by Rebecca Randall, Christianity Today, August 14, 2018 Ross, Hugh. https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/…ays-new-reason-to-believe/2020/03/30/viruses-and-god-s-good-designs Ross, Hugh, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2009/11/26/viruses-and-god’s-providence-revisited]