How Viruses Made Us Humans [Book Review]

In Andy Lock Nathalie Gontier (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution. Oxford, Vereinigtes Königreich: pp. 1-20 (2021)
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Current research on the origin of DNA and RNA, viruses, and mobile genetic elements prompts a re-evaluation of the origin and nature of genetic material as the driving force behind evolutionary novelty. While scholars used to think that novel features resulted from random genetic mutations of an individual’s specific genome, today we recognize the important role that acquired viruses and mobile genetic elements have played in introducing evolutionary novelty within the genomes of species. Viral infections and subviral RNAs can enter the host genome and persist as genetic regulatory networks. Persistent viral infections are also important to understand the split between great apes and humans. Nearly all mammals and nonhuman primates rely on olfaction, i.e., chemoreception as the basis of the sense of smell for social recognition, group membership, and the coordination of organized social life. Humans, however, evolved other means to establish social bonding, because several infection waves by endogenous retroviruses caused a loss of odor receptors in human ancestors. The human independence from olfaction for social recognition was in turn one driver of the rather abrupt human transition to dependence on visual information, gesture production, and facial recognition that are at the roots of language-based communication.
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Archival date: 2021-07-19
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