I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues, and I'm asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs.
– from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
by Welkin Johnson
Figure 1: A non-virus. Source.
As biologists, we divvy the biological realm up into domains using a formula that frankly, smacks of nepotism, bestowing three glorious domains upon our closest relatives—the Eucaryota, the Archaea, and the Bacteria—while committing an injustice to the so-called viruses, lumping them together in a miscellaneous catch-all category (“viruses” from Latin for poison and other noxious substances) with contemptible disregard for phylogeny or any true measure of diversity.
Imagine that viruses, like Dr. Seuss’s Truffula Trees, had a vocal advocate like The Lorax. Undoubtedly, through the agency of their outspoken mouthpiece, they would protest these gerrymandered borders and laugh at our skewed notions of biological diversity. After all (the viruses would argue), just consider the platypus, the coelacanth, the earthworm, and the bacillus. All these organisms have double-stranded DNA genomes, whose lengths all fall within roughly the same order of magnitude, which they replicate using evolutionarily customized versions of what amounts to the same basic enzymatic apparatus. How boring! How unimaginative! Now consider this (the viruses go on to say): the giant Mimivirus, 1256 nm of girth enfolding >1,000,000 base pairs of DNA, and the tiny Circovirus, with a mere 1,800 bases of single-stranded DNA tucked inside a 20nm-wide shell, are neither more nor less related to one another than either one is to an elephant! (For those who are not familiar with the elephant, it is a relative of the platypus, the coelacanth, the earthworm, and the bacillus)