Moselio Schaechter

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May 30, 2013

Talmudic Question #99

This is our first illustrated Talmudic Question and our last Talmudic Question (at least for a while).  We think it may be time to move to new pastures. We hope that our new section, Pictures Considered, will partly fill this space.



This cartoon formulates the problem of the first viral infection as a kin to the the problem of the egg and the hen. Which came first? This question is indeed mind boggling, and sets your thinking spinning, uncomfortably. But when it comes to viral infections it may sometimes be less of a spin, because the infection might be of zoonotic origin. This may be obvious to the common STC-reader, but not to me. To this agnostic blog consumer, I can only recommend a reading of Spillover, by David Quammen:

The Spillover means that the virus one day made a jump from a non human species to humans. To be sustained in this new species, it had to find a way to spread from one individual to another. This is exactly what has been found with HIV-1. The HIV-epidemic grew roughly exponentially from only one or a few infected individuals around 1910 to the more than 55 million estimated to have been infected by 2007. Less than a few thousand HIV-infected individuals was found by 1960, all in central Africa, but it is possible to imagine how the nascent epidemic went unrecognized.

So how did the first person get infected? By a chimpanzee, it seems. And probably in the early 1900. In a South Eastern corner of Cameroon. For details check:

The Talmudic end seems, to me, a promising beginning. Ingeneous, as always.

Great idea! This cartoon addresses the spontaneous generation of 'life' de novo, either historically in Darwin's warm pond, or contemporaneously, in the lab. Has viruses been 'taken apart' into a viral biotic soup (and fractionated into their components?), and then re-constituted in vitro into 'working' viruses?

People were built from viruses, among other things (look at all the transposons in our genome!)

I hope you will reconsider ... I enjoy the Talmudic Questions so much!

I don't think it's fair for you to end the blog until all the Talmudic Questions are answered. However, if we're going to force us to meditate on _Family Circle_ cartoons, maybe it's for the best.

With respect to the TQ at hand, the answer is "from a duck." Why a duck?


I hope that this isn't the end of Talmudic Questions! I intend to have students discuss TQs briefly, once a week, in my Fall Microbiology course. So I have enough for next year...but I honestly think that these questions are important, and more than just rumination over coffee. They help students (and scientists!) think "outside of the box." And that is demonstrably how science has progressed. Fingers crossed...

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