Dear New Scientist

In the full expectation that my letter will not see the light of day – nothing I have ever written to NS over some 15 years ever has – I will put this here, where more some people may see it.

Dear Editor:

I recall being a little miffed when I read the original article on
biodiversity in NS (24 April) – because there was no mention at
all of the greatest part of the biodiversity on this (and probably any
other) planet, which is viruses.  There are more viruses on Earth than
any other kinds of organisms, and virus genomes provide the greatest
source of gene diversity – yet they don’t rate a mention.

And then, in your Letters page of the 22 May issue, people take up
cudgels on behalf of fungi, of all things!

Cellism, that’s all it is….

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7 Responses to “Dear New Scientist”

  1. César Sánchez Says:

    That’s an excellent point.

    I confess I tend to be a “cellist” (although I don’t play the violoncello) and a “bacterist”. But I’m working on it.

    I am really disappointed with the way biodiversity is generally understood and explained, even by scientists who should know much better. And I wrote a blog post about it:

    Year of Biodiversity: only for cute animals and plants?

    Note that in my post I used the general terms “microbes” or “microorganisms” to avoid falling on “bacterism” or “cellism”…

    • Ed Rybicki Says:

      Cellism: yes, most biologists (and civilians) are…but they need to learn!! If most of the biological and genetic diversity on the planet is in the form of viruses, then we won’t understand much about large-scale ecological interactions without them.

      Like the fact that 5% of the oxygen generated on this planet is due to cyanophages.

      Or viruses that alter the behaviour of insects and other animals so as to to get themselves passed on to secondary hosts…so who knows what is “normal” behaviour?

  2. DMcILROY Says:

    Yeah, well, since viruses aren’t even properly alive, I guess they don’t count for biodiversity. Just for the sake of argument, if all the eukaryote viruses disappeared tomorrow, would we (that is, their hosts) miss them? On the other hand, if all their eukaryote hosts disappeared, then where would the viruses be? The point is, viruses don’t need special care to protect their diversity. Protecting hosts protects virus diversity just fine.


    • Ed Rybicki Says:

      Dorian!! Viruses not alive?? Shame on you…yes they are – in the continuum of life, from molecules through to whales – and yes, they most certainly do contribute to biodiversity. In a VERY big way.

      True, if there were no hosts there would be no viruses – but then, if we had no E coli or no plants we’d be dead too, so who’s the more dependent organism?

      If eukaryotes disappeared? Well, +90% of viruses would carry on just fine, given most cellular organisms are prokaryotes, and therefore most viruses infect prokaryotes, so that’s where the greatest diversity is.

      Of course, there’s less money in looking at those, so we don’t, very much.

  3. DMcILROY Says:

    BTW – did you get to see any of the games?

  4. Brittany Sears Says:

    A very good point! At the American Society of Parasitologists meeting this summer, parasite diversity was mentioned several times in the context of conservation. There are likely far more endangered parasites than there are endangered hosts, since each host houses dozens of species, some of them exclusive to that host. There’s an Amphibian Ark – where’s the yacht full of trematodes?? 🙂

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