As is common with many viruses, the influenza virus continues to change little by little over time. These small adaptations ultimately result in different strains of the influenza virus. While their genetic makeup is slightly different, these mutated versions of the virus still closely resemble each other. It begs to wonder: is the fascinating mutation of the flu virus a real-time example of the theory of evolution or could these changes be characterized as something else?
The Theory of Evolution
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, also known as the theory of Natural Selection, proposes that populations of living things evolve or change over time in order to survive. The theory states that each individual in a population is different, meaning that some individuals have traits that are better suited for survival than others. The individuals with better traits survive and replicate while the individuals with unfavorable traits are met with two options: change and adopt favorable traits or die out. When the individuals in a population with unfavorable traits change over time to survive, this is known as evolution.
Mutation of the Flu Virus
A common way flu viruses mutate is through something known as “antigenic drift” which happens as the virus replicates over time. This means that during replication, the virus’ genes adapt, causing slight changes in its surface proteins. With antigenic drift, the new mutations of the virus are still very similar in their makeup, with only minuscule variations in surface proteins. However, as time goes on and the virus continues to change, these mutations accumulate and produce strains that are very different.
Is Mutation of the Flu Virus Evolution?
Whether or not the mutation of the flu virus can be classified as evolution is debatable. On the one hand, we could claim that these mutations are examples of the theory of evolution in action. After all, these viruses are adapting and adopting traits that sometimes help them survive and continue replicating – a key component of natural selection.
On the other hand, we must ask ourselves if the mutation of the flu virus is due to its desire for survival or if is it simply an accident that happens in the life of a virus. According to the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection, individuals adapt in order to survive. Some mutations of the flu virus result in a weaker genetic makeup, making it easier for the body’s immune system to fight against it. These strains end up dying out sooner than other more virulent ones. With mutations like this that work against the survival of the virus, can we claim that it is an example of evolution? Could it perhaps simply be the imperfect and error-prone process that makes up the life of an unconscious pathogen?
Whether it is required vaccines for your trip or routine immunizations like influenza, Passport Health is here to help. Call 937-306-7541 or book online to schedule your appointment today.
Ese Agboh is a student nurse who wants to specialize in pediatric nursing and wound care. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing articles related to medicine and the pathophysiology of communicable diseases. Ese currently lives and studies on the east coast of the United States.