why do we study viruses in biology
Because even though viruses themselves don t strictly fit the usual definition of life, they do require living cells in order to reproduce, and they actually take over that living cell in order to do so--they usurp the host s synthetic machinery, shut down mechanisms that might otherwise prevent viral replication, and convert the cell into a virus-making factory. In fact, much of the study of viruses involves studying the host s mechanisms. Finally, most modern cells actually have viral code in their genomes, inserted there via recombination. We have viral code in our genome and it s now part of our biology. So, really, the study of viruses IS all about life. The very beginning of the field of molecular biology began in the 1930s with Delbruck Luria studying the growth of viruses (bacteriophages) in bacteria. A reason for not studying it in chemistry?
Well, there is no reason not to, one of the areas of interest right now is how viral particles are able to recognize specific cell types--specific molecules on the viral surface recognize and latch on to specific receptor molecules on the host cell--and structural chemistry is used to examine those receptor-ligand interactions.
The scientific study of viruses is known as virology. Virology also covers parasitic particles of genetic material that are contained in the protein coat, as well as virus-like agents. There is great debate on whether viruses are living or not, as they need a healthy cell to infect to reproduce. It is a subfield of microbiology, and sometimes considered a subfield of medicine. The word "virus" stems from 1599, and its original meaning was "venom". There have been many attempts before this, however, to study viruses and figuring out how to cure them.
One of the earliest examples was a vaccination known as variolation, which was developed several thousand years ago in China to treat smallpox. This vaccine was carried west and eventually reached Britain in 1717 with the help of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. It was met with considerable resistance, as it took materials from people that had smallpox to immunize others. In 1796, however, Edward Jenner would develop a much safer method, using cowpox. He would successfully immunize a child against smallpox, and this practice was taken up everywhere. From this point, many other vaccines would be developed, such as a rabies vaccine by Louis Pasteur (1886). While they did not understand how viruses worked, they still managed to get the results regardless. Virology applies its focus on attributes of viruses, such as their structure, how they are classified, and how they evolved.
Virology also covers how they infect healthy cells for reproduction, how they interact with an organism's physiology and immune systems, diseases that they cause, techniques used to isolate and culture them, and using them for research as well as therapy. One of the main reasons to study virology is because viruses cause many infectious diseases, such as rabies the common cold, the flu, measles, yellow fever, polio, small pox, and aids. The only way we can develop preventions to these is through study, as viruses are inherently untreatable. Viruses can lead to cancer, and as such the development of preventative medicines greatly aids humanity in living a longer, healthier life. An example of this would be the Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.
The two are almost synonymous, where almost all cervical cancer patients had the HPV virus. The immune system is the body's strongest defense to viruses. Viruses can be marked with antibodies produced by the immune system. These antibodies either neutralize the virus or mark it for destruction. When blood samples are taken, the presence of certain antibodies can show whether someone has had the virus in the past. Virology greatly assists our day to day lives by making new ways for us to fight viruses. There are many viruses out there that we still don't have a proper vaccine for, such as HIV, which has killed 35 million people and currently 36. 7 million people live with the virus. Virology can unlock the keys to these viruses that we do not have the cure for yet, and hopefully lead humanity into a more prosperous time.
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