Pandoraviruses: a Pandora’s Box of trouble for evolution

wikipedia.org (John William Waterhouse: Pandora, 1896)pandora-2
Today the phrase “to open a Pandora’s box” means to perform an action that may seem small or innocent, but which turns out to have severely troublesome and far-reaching consequences.


Viruses in many ways are an enigma to biologists. Debate has raged for years as to whether viruses can even be considered a life form. As they lack the enzyme and organelle ‘machinery’ that defines a living cell, viruses cannot carry out the necessary internal metabolism to sustain life, or to reproduce themselves. It’s true that they carry their own genes (the DNA or RNA ‘blueprint’ that codes for their construction). However, viruses can only reproduce by commandeering a suitable host’s cell machinery to do the job. Viruses therefore can in no way be presented by evolutionists as a transitional form (i.e. an ‘evolutionary intermediate’) between non-life and life, as viruses need to have fully-functional living cellular organisms already in existence! Viruses do not really fit anywhere on the evolutionary ‘tree of life’—they are very obviously not the ancestors of one-celled (or any other) creatures.1

And with the discovery of two very distinctive viruses in Chile and Australia,2 viruses have become even more of an evolutionary enigma. The viruses are the largest ever discovered. Dubbed ‘Pandoraviruses’, they are so large that they are visible under an ordinary light microscope, and appear to have more features in common with cellular organisms than do other known viruses.

Research team members Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel (husband and wife) of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) were reported to have been “extremely surprised” to discover the super-large viruses, and wrote that the viruses’ container-like shape and unique set of genes “made us associate them to the Pandora box. The opening of the box will definitely break the foundations of what we thought viruses were.”3

wikipedia.org (Engraving based on a painting by F. S. Church, 19th century.)pandora
Pandora’s box is a fictitious artifact in Greek mythology—according to the myth, the box was given to Pandora and she opened it, thus releasing a whole lot of troubles into the world. For more on Pandora and other components of ancient Greek religion (and aspects relating to Genesis) see: Athena and Eve.

In other words, the researchers think that these viruses are sufficiently different from any life form previously encountered that therefore Pandoraviruses might have come from a “different [evolutionary] tree of life altogether”.3

And they rather candidly added, “Our knowledge of biology as a whole and of the origin of life is still very incomplete.”3

Another scientist who has studied large viruses (but who was not involved with this study) agrees with the French researchers that the Pandoraviruses present a challenge. “The problem here is more from an evolutionary point of view. Where do these viruses come from?” explained Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, Professor of Bioinformatics at the University of Illinois. “They are definitely part of something that we do not understand very well and that has the same complexity as cells.”3

In fact, compared to some single-celled organisms, Pandoraviruses have more complexity. Their genomes range from 1,900 to 2,500 genes, exceeding that of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalum which has only 525 genes, and also equalling or exceeding that of parasitic eukaryotic microbes such as Encephalitozoon spp. which have in the order of 2,000 genes. Incidentally, at this stage Pandoraviruses are not believed to make people sick; the viruses known to make people ill have tiny genomes—e.g. the influenza virus has has only 10 genes.4

In relation to genes, the researchers wrote in their paper: “Because more than 93% of Pandoraviruses genes resemble nothing known, their origin cannot be traced back to any known cellular lineage.”2 Hence why they are proposing that Pandoraviruses came from a “different tree of life altogether”.3

However, Professor Caetano-Anolles suggests that Pandoraviruses are actually descended from a cell—and that viruses that make people sick are “part of a lineage that go rogue”.3

While these last two comments from evolutionist Caetano-Anolles are interesting, they do not provide any succour for evolutionary theory—just the opposite, in fact. For if Pandoraviruses are descended from a cell then they have lost genetic information and complexity, not gained, whereas molecules-to-microbes-to-man evolution requires an increase in genetic information and complexity.

And these ideas of Caetano-Anolles are actually similar, in principle, to something many creationists have pointed to as having happened in bacteria and other organisms since the Fall: progressive genomic degradation and loss of function. E.g. we have previously highlighted that parasites are noteworthy for being genetically depleted compared to free-living equivalents—see articles under How does biblical Christianity explain the origin of poisons, and pathogenic bacteria and viruses? Leprosy is a good example. Mycobacterium leprae, has lost more than 2000 genes, about a quarter of its total genome. Evolutionists are aware of this—e.g. Lynn Margulis (1938–2011) pointed out:

“Both the treponema that cause syphilis and the borrelia that cause Lyme disease contain only a fifth of the genes they need to live on their own. Related spirochetes that can live outside by themselves need 5,000 genes, whereas the spirochetes of those two diseases have only 1,000 genes in their bodies. The 4,000 missing gene products needed for bacterial growth can be supplied by wet, warm human tissue. This is why both the Lyme disease borrelia and syphilis treponema are symbionts—they require another body to survive.”5

The same principle applies to viruses: the most harmful viruses seem to have devolved.6 When one looks at the ‘big picture’, the evidence of genetic decline is everywhere—bad news for evolutionary theory, but right in line with the Bible’s account of Creation and Fall.

So it’s not just pandoraviruses and their non-fit on the imagined evolutionary ‘tree(s?!) of life’ which open a Pandora’s box of troubles for evolutionary theory. Wherever and whenever evolutionists examine real-world evidence, more such ‘Pandora’s boxes’ await.

Published: 19 April 2016

References and notes

  1. For more on viruses and their importance in any discussion of origins see: Kim, M., Biological view of viruses—creation vs evolution, Journal of Creation 20(3):12–13, 2006, https://dl0.creation.com/articles/p106/c10612/j20_3_12-13.pdf; and Bergman, J., Did God make pathogenic viruses?, Journal of Creation 13(1):115–125, 1999; creation.com/did-god-make-pathogenic-viruses. Return to text
  2. Namely: Pandoravirus salinus, found in marine sediment at the mouth of the Tunquen River on the coast of central Chile, and Pandoravirus dulcis, found in the mud of a shallow freshwater pond near Melbourne, Australia. Philippe, N., Legendre M., Doutre, G., Couté, Y., Poirot, O., Lescot, M., Arslan, D., Seltzer, V., Bertaux, L., Bruley, C., Garin, J., Claverie, J.-M., Abergel, C., Pandoraviruses: Amoeba viruses with genomes up to 2.5 Mb reaching that of parasitic Eukaryotes, Science 341(6143):281–286, 19 July 2013; DOI: 10.1126/science.1239181. Return to text
  3. Sheridan, K., Huge viruses may open ‘Pandora’s box’: French study, phys.org/news/2013-07-huge-viruses-pandora-french.html, 18 July 2013. Return to text
  4. Carter, RW., More evidence for the reality of genetic entropy, Journal of Creation 28(1):16–17; creation.com/evidence-for-genetic-entropy. Return to text
  5. Teresi, D., Discover interview: Lynn Margulis says she’s not controversial, she’s right, discovermagazine.com/2011/apr/16-interview-lynn-margulis-not-controversial-right, 17 June 2011. Return to text
  6. E.g. see Sarfati, J., Ebola disease: the result of the Fall, creation.com/ebola-fall, 25 October 2014. Return to text

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