Are Rna Viruses Vestiges of an Rna World?

This paper follows the circuitous path of theories concerning the origins of viruses from the early years of the twentieth century until the present, considering RNA viruses in particular. I focus on three periods during which new understandings of the nature of viruses guided the construction and reconstruction of origin hypotheses. During the first part of the twentieth century, viruses were mostly viewed from within the framework of bacteriology and the discussion of origin centered on the “degenerative” or the “retrograde evolution theory.” However, concomitantly, in the context of origin-of-life theorizing, the notion that viruses are vestiges of a prebiotic world was also being contemplated. In the 1960s the idea that viruses were genetic elements that “escaped” from cells became prevalent. These traditional hypotheses are being revisited nowadays by evolutionary virologists, who have placed them within a new conceptual framework that is supported by cutting-edge genomic and proteomic data. Two current, opposing scenarios of virus origin are presented. The philosophical dimensions of “revisiting” the original hypotheses are briefly discussed.
Keywords RNA viruses  RNA world  origin
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    Scott Podolsky (1996). The Role of the Virus in Origin-of-Life Theorizing. Journal of the History of Biology 29 (1):79 - 126.
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