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Viruses, giruses and other particles

LED Stories

VIRUSES, GIRUSES AND OTHER PARTICLES

Elias Hakalehto, PhD, Adj. Prof.

Microbiologist, Biotechnologist

CEO, Finnoflag Oy

Vice President, International Society of Environmental Indicators

Lifetime Fellow Member, International Society of Development and Sustainability (Japan)

(Published on the 8th of June 2022)

During the current extravagant times, the ordinary citizens are most distressed by pandemics, oppression and other  horrors.  On the contrary, there could be deep understanding, comfort and fountains of joy to be found in the history of fundamental knowledge.  In fact, this knowledge is not meaning the overwhelming amounts of particles of information to be digitally processed. Happiness springs out of other values, one of them being the truthful perception of this world.

It is one obvious misunderstanding of our modern times that our technologies were in all fields superior to the ages old advancements. Just looking around us casts remarkable doubts on that. Because of the misuse of modern technology, human livelihood is on the brink of collapse. Even in the peacetime, many avenues of real progress have been neglected due to small-mindness and lassitude. For example, the risks of reckless energy production and emissions were obvious more than 50 years ago, and they could have been buffered. Lack of true intellectual freedom to share thoughts has pushed us toward moral bankgrupty and lack of initiativeness and courage. Technologies have easily become vehicles of self-assertion.

What could be learnt from the old-time generations? They often have investigated the same phenomena than us, but with more comprehensive tools, and a holistic, or social, response. In this retrospective evaluation we should humble ourselves but the technology as such is not good or evil. It is our values that matter.

A common question in the scientific discussions today: "Why do the viruses exist? What IS their purpose?" In fact, several answers are presented in an excellent article by the BBC: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200617-what-if-all-viruses-disappeared

However, these issues warrant a lot of new studies and thinking, which could lead into novel biological understanding.

One most fascinating article about "giruses" (Giant viruses) was written by James van Etten in American Scientist 2011. The giruses have been known to exist only for about 20 years. They were not discovered earlier simply because in various samples viruses were searched for from the filtrate. Since the giruses are about the size of the smallest bacteria, they remained unspotted for so long as they were not going through the filters with small pores. However, their numbers are huge in the environment, and their effects of major climatological scale.

For example, there are often formed gigantic rifts of blooming phytoplankton in the oceans with the dimensions of thousands of kilometers at best. At some point their specific giruses dissociate the planktonic algal cells and eventually the rifts. The resulting organic debris is processed by oceanwater microbiota into volatile compounds such as DMSO. These molecules, as massively liberated by evaporation, cause atmospheric crystallization of water - and consequently rains in large areas. The DMSO (dimethyl sulphoxide) that enters the atmosphere, impacts climate by particle formation, into which particles more water accumulates higher up in the atmosphere? It is believed that such phenomena as the White Cliffs of Dover in England, for instance, are caused by the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the water by these above-mentioned acidic rains. The ocean waves then bring the topping initially produced by viruses, onto the rocky surfaces ashore.

Regarding the viruses, practically all cellular life have them specific. Thus, there seems to be a built-in mechanism in all living things that leads to the viral occurence. Plants, animals, bacteria, other microbes; all species have their specific viruses. As we have learnt during the pandemics, these may make recombinants in Nature. This happens relatively rarely, but as 100M virus particles of various hosts precipitate daily on an area of one square meter, this gives an idea of the vast numbers of viruses around us.

During the spread of infections, the air-borne viruses are distributed in aerosols, droplets, or in association with larger particles.  However, they are highly susceptible to the UV light, desiccation, and other forces in the ambient air. Therefore, they need solid particles or liguid droplets for their dissemination and protection in the atmosphere. And these are far larger entities than individual viruses, or even singular bacterial cells. - Actually, any particles smaller than 10 micrometers are not landing due to gravitation, but because of water precipitation, aggregation, fluctuations of air, electrification etc. In order to maintain microbial security, it is of high importance to understand the potential routes of contamination, the survival methods of the pathogenic agents in air, and the speed and location of the infective units around us.

This attitude and knowledge will be more needed than ever, as there is new data about the strange SARS-CoV-2 virus emerging as a new Omicron BA.5 variant that has landed Portugal, Germany and other countries. So, the coming Summer is possibly not as free from the pandemic threats as we could have hoped. Moreover, it seems likely that the lowering public levels of health resilience and immunity are all the time increasing the risks of different contagious epidemics to get emerged on top of the Covid-19.

In the beginning of this milennium, nanoparticles were believed to be a useful solution technologically. They were implemented into cosmetics, paints, textiles and so on. However, in 2015 Canada was the first country to forbid their use. These particles were accumulating in the environment, into the biological organisms and distributed in the food chains. For instance, in humans they could jam the blood circulation in veins, or any other vital fluctuations in the body system or within its cells.

Inside the living cells, many viruses could remain latent in our genomes, and may get activated or triggered in some conditions. The viruses are often referred to be like half alive creatures. They fulfill one of the fundamental criteria of life, as they can produce off-springs of their kind. However, they lack the other basic trait of being alive. They do not possess metabolism of their own.

The food, rumen and biorefinery environments, they indeed consist of myriads of metabolic activities and interactions of living cells. Acting there, or elsewhere, as a kind of messengers or mediators, viruses can tell us a lot about Life.

In nuclear physics, according to Heisenberg's principle, we cannot determine the exact location and speed of a quantum particle simultaneously. Niels Bohr was elaborating this rule by noting that it is not a matter of measurability but of being knowable. In fact, it is likely that there we have attained the borders of human understanding. More about the quantum physics could be studied from the excellent books of Jim Baggott, such as the "Quantum Space" (Oxford University Press, 2018). The principle of uncertainty has its reflections on our understanding of events around and ahead of us.

Thence, somewhat similarly, we cannot predict whether there is a Summer or Winter outside an aeroplane at any specific moment as it flies through the atmosphere. At high altitudes of about 12 000 m, the temperature could be about -70 degrees of Centigrade almost anywhere on this planet. Without knowing our geographical location or the altitude as we travel through time and space, we can only measure the temperature outside the plane but not assume anything or much of its future developments. - However, human impact on the climate could decisively influence our lives rapidly. For example, the nuclear accident occurred in Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. Then the destroyed nuclear power station emitted radioactive particles into the atmosphere. A farmer on the Finnish fields some days after the accident lost his hair after plowing a rainy field overnight in a tractor without a canopy. His long hair completely detached in a shower afterwards. That radioactivity caused many other local and broader natural and human incidences and consequences of various degrees.

We experience the accelerated pace of these upheavals of various scales inevitably accumulating in this current line and high speed of catastrophes occuring. Therefore, we should emphasize the global responsibility of Mankind. Similarly, as the nuclear disaster is not causing devastation or destruction in the vicinity of its site only, the incessant succession of myriads of ecocatastrophes leads to not only the state of aerial and global insecurity an allover unpredictability. If dust is liberated, the temperatures may drop significantly. This catastrophe theory based on accelerated "butterfly effects" as well as dire dangers will lead to the suffering of all humanity.

In principle, we have accustomed to think that in Summer no snow exists. However, it is possible that such paradigmas could be turned upside down due to manmade influences. In 1975, a Finnish 85 years old shopkeeper in a traditional, rural village shop stated: "In the past, it was possible to predict precisely the weather of any given day of the coming year based on the signs in Nature." But he continued: "the nuclear experiments have so badly disturbed the laws of nature in the stratosphere during the latest decades" that such foreseeing of weather was not possible anymore.

A quotation of a book of almost 150 years ago confirms the simple statement of the late shopkeeper by a counter-argument. "With the foregoing explanation in mind, the reader is invited to look into one of the gardens of the palace on Mount Zion. The time was noonday on the middle of July, when the heat of summer was at its highest." Written by Lew Wallace, in "Ben Hur" (1880). – We live in that assumptions of usuality which define our own coordinates in this reality. Or at least we believe so. Now, the reality has been distorted profoundly. Further emergences can occur in the form of a volcano to get erupted, or as a result of manmade explosion which darkens the sky and prevent sunlight partially from entering the surface.

As human beings, we bear high responsibility for the global ecosystem. Our actions on all scales have provoked changes in the environment and climate in a plentiful of ways. Correspondingly, the microcosm has been profoundly altered by man in uncountable cases. – The prediction for many singular microbial cells in the unseen world, where equally many bacterial cells inhabit a spoonful of yoghurt as there are human beings on Earth, has essentially changed. The microbiological anomalities in the ecosystems accelerate devastation. As the obstruction of the food production system will lead to famine, the environmental chaos could lead to near uncomprehensible consequences.

Fortunately, there are emerging inventions to turn the wheel. Like, the rooftop agriculture in Paris, "Nature Urbaine", still under construction, is producing 300 kg of vegetables daily. It uses 90% less water than the common agricultural fields. The director of the urban rooftop farm, Sophie Hardy, stated in an article in The Times (21st of June 2020) that the farm underlined a shift towards a world of organic, locally grown food. Such ideas implemented into practical enterprises, are valuable paragons for our societies. - City food has been produced already for a long time in Singapore, too.

Do we have a heartfull of non-intimidating compassion and love of truth in our coordinates of coexistence? The wisdom has long roots, and the causalities in nature have not changed but will reflect all our doings of past, present and future. It is the high time to reunite idealism and moral with hopeful realism. The hardships may come in any case, but it is up to us as societies, how to proceed with them.

When the Northern sun of the nightless night is setting and rising at the same time, it is staining the melodies of even songs and briskness of morning on the selfsame canvas. Then the first solar rays of the day enter the scene like particles of joy dropping on the awakening lakes still reflecting also the shine of the day already gone by with its last ripples. Just like the dualism of light in physics, it is relatively easy to figure out and imagine the majestic symphonies of unfading truth behind all this extraorninary beauty in the concert of colours and moods.

At the same time, the Mediterranean waves flush the coastal rocks of Tel Shikmona. The name of this about 2000 years old small city means "to reestablish". Just like, according to Professor Safriel who describes erosion of the rocky shores there, by one vermetid species, and the remineralization of the cliffs by another species returning the tiny particles of solids presipitating back to the same platform on these stony beaches (in article "Vermetid gastropods and intertidal reeds in Israel and Bermuda", Science vol.186: 1113-1115, 1974). This shaping of the inorganic surfaces by biological metabolism has kept the shoreline unchanged for centuries.

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