Viruses are very strange and clever things. The common cold is the most prevalent upper respiratory illness affecting humans and is caused by a virus known as the rhinovirus. Some scientists believe that viruses are the earliest of life forms, since they are structured from the basic building blocks of life-forming components – a base of carbon atoms, which naturally form into strings.
These strings can co-join with other atoms which bond together to form molecular structures, such that the string becomes a chain of RNA – which literally provides a copyable blueprint for the replication of genetic information which then acts as a kind of molecular ‘memory’, which literally has the effect of carrying these structures into the future, thus giving them longevity, or, more importantly, a temporal form of life. In this way, they live in that they persist through time – but they do not yet ‘live’ in the real sense: that is, they last for a little time, but they cannot move, eat, excrete, nor reproduce: in order to really live in the full sense of the word, they have to enter cells.
Imagine a world which was once covered in sea, and in the sea were millions of virile, complex viruses. The movement of sea made them bump into each other, so that they chemically bonded and grew ever more complex. Such was the virility and complexity of some viruses in that sea that they evolved walls which prevented them from being invaded by competitive viruses, and thus these walled types retained their genetic makeup.
These walled viruses would become the forerunners of cells – for they avoided the constant violence of simple tactile invasion by literally surrounding themselves with a membrane. At this stage of evolution, it is probable that many millions of non – membranous viruses died out – for they could not compete with the new found armory of primitive cells, and so life would have had to evolve from viral to cellular. However, some cells would have remained genetically ‘simple’ – except of course for their walls – whilst other viruses carried on to grow ever more complex and vigorous, and even ‘learned’ how to evolve by invading the walls of the ‘simple’ cells and thus, once inside, benefited from the protection of these walls (they usurp a step in evolution so to speak).
Once inside those cells, however, these complex viruses were able to parasitically affect the genetic material within the existing simple cell, and make that cell do, not what it was genetically programmed to do, but what the genetics of the virus wanted it to do. And it is these clever viruses that have mastered simple cell penetration and manipulation, that have thereby existed and mutated to this day. The ubiquitous sniff and sneeze of the common cold is proof positive of the success of the rhinovirus.
So, whilst viruses cannot themselves reproduce, once they get inside a cell, they have ‘learned’ how to use the cell’s genetic mechanism to reproduce – so that in the carrying forward of genetic information, which is the supreme achievement of nature, they have nevertheless remained viral, but become reproductive, and thus the viral life form has gained far greater longevity, and has come to possess what we cellular beings call true ‘life’. In this way, viruses have gained the supremacy of the cell, in a world where the cell has itself gained the supremacy of the sea – and your living cold is their vindictive victory.