|
2 minutes reading

Wherever scientifics look, they found viruses

Wherever scientifics look, they found viruses Wherever scientifics look, they found viruses
Source: Piotr Dura via Artstation
A Planet of Viruses
From a book
A Planet of Viruses
Font size
A
12 24 17
A

Fifty miles southeast of the Mexican city of Chihuahua is a dry, bare mountain range called Sierra de Naica. In 2000, miners worked their way down through a network of caves below the mountains. When they got a thousand feet underground, they found themselves in a place that seemed to belong to another world. They were standing in a chamber measuring thirty feet wide and ninety feet long. The ceiling, walls, and floor were lined with smooth-faced, translucent crystals of gypsum. Many caves contain crystals, but not like the ones in Sierra de Naica. They measured up to thirty-six feet long apiece and weighed as much as fifty-five tons. These were not crystals to hang from a necklace. These were crystals to climb like hills.

Since its discovery, a few scientists have been granted permission to visit this extraordinary chamber, known now as the Cave of Crystals. Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz, a geologist at the University of Granada, made the journey and figured out that the crystals formed when volcanoes began to form the mountains 26 million years ago. Subterranean chambers took shape and filled with hot mineral-laced water. The heat of the volcanic magma kept the water at around 136 degrees, the ideal temperature for the minerals to settle out of the water and form crystals. Somehow the water stayed at that perfect temperature for hundreds of thousands of years, allowing the crystals to grow to surreal sizes.

In 2009, another scientist, Curtis Suttle, paid a visit to the Cave of Crystals. Suttle and his colleagues scooped up water from the chamber's pools and brought it back to their laboratory at the University of British Columbia to analyze. When you consider Suttle's line of work, his journey might seem like a fool's errand. Suttle has no professional interest in crystals, or minerals, or any rocks at all for that matter. He studies viruses.

There are no people in the Cave of Crystals for the viruses to infect. There are not even any fish. The cave has been effectively cut off from the biology of the outside world for millions of years. Yet Suttle's trip was well worth the effort. After he prepared his samples of crystal water, he put them under a microscope and saw protein shells loaded with genes. Each drop of cave water may hold two hundred million viruses.

Just about wherever scientists look—deep within the earth, on grains of sand blown off of the Sahara Desert, under mile-thick layers of Antarctic ice—they find viruses. And when they look in familiar places, they find new ones. In 2009, Dana Willner, a biologist at San Diego State University, led a virus-hunting expedition into the human body. The scientists had ten people cough up sputum and spit it into a cup. Five of the people were sick with cystic fibrosis, and five were healthy. Out of that fluid, Willner and her team fished out fragments of DNA, which they compared to databases of the tens of millions of genes already known to science. Before Willner's study, the lungs of healthy people were believed to be sterile. But Willner and her colleagues discovered that all their subjects, sick and healthy alike, carried viral menageries in their chests. On average, each person had 174 species of viruses in the lungs. But only 10 percent of those species bore any close kinship to any virus ever found before. The other 90 percent were as strange as anything lurking in the Cave of Crystals.

Comments are small addendum used to provided quick feedback. They are intentionally limited in size and formatting.


Please enter a value.

Your example


Please enter a value.
Similar articles
Category:
Animals & nature
1 minute reading

Governments and parliaments must find that astronomy is one of the sciences which cost most dear: the least instrument costs ...

| Approved
Category:
Animals & nature
A clever virus does not kill A clever virus does not kill
R1DD1CK via zbrushcentral

An inefficient virus kills its host. A clever virus stays with it.

| Approved
Category:
Animals & nature
A solely tree in a lowland stands as a great man A solely tree in a lowland stands as a great man
Lorenzo Lanfranconi via Arstation

I revere [trees] when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. […] A tree says: The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

| Approved
Category:
Animals & nature
1 minute reading

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone ...

| Approved
Category:
Animals & nature

The very word virus began as a contradiction. We inherited the word from the Roman Empire, where it meant, at once, the venom of a snake or the semen of a man. Creation and destruction in one word. 

| Approved
Row:Column:
×
Row:Column:
×