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We've all seen it. A new zombie game comes out, we rush to the store to buy it and we end up being slaughtered by giant mutated undead spider-guys. Then we replay it. Rinse and repeat, so to say. Okay, now let's ditch the zombies here, I'm sick of them. The point of the question is this:

Can a virus conceivably cause mutations in its hosts? If so, is there a limit as to what the extent of these mutations are?

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  • $\begingroup$ Viruses do cause changes in their host. The process is viral transformation. I don't know how far this could be taken, however. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 28 '15 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ There is a category of viruses called retrovirus, which inserts genome in the host so that it is inherited by further cell divisions. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrovirus $\endgroup$ – Tobias Wärre Apr 28 '15 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ This might also be a good question over on Biology.SE In fact, I found a couple of questions there that could be related (not duplicates) to what you're asking, here and here. $\endgroup$ – Seth Apr 28 '15 at 14:58
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The answer is yes. Those types of viruses that insert their genomic material into the host cell genome can cause mutation. In fact, this is originally how the genes that cause cancer (oncogenes) were discovered.

As far as the feasibility of "giant mutated undead spider guys" (GMUSGs)... no. The mutation is on a per-cell-infected basis and the descendants of that cell line.

The main problem with viral mutation vis-a-vis GMUSGs is that the virus is mostly messing up host processes, such as contact inhibition or genome proofreading, that prevent transformation into cancerous cells.

Zombies make more sense, as you could cause neural tissue damage that results in insanity and aggression. Transferring the virus via bite would be trivial

If you (or anyone) would like to ask a question about a viral mutation causing a specific outcome, I'm sure I could dig through my journals and find something. Kinda had to paint with broad strokes here.


TL;DR: Viruses mutate things in a way that messes them up, not in a coordinated way that could result in new, functional structures.


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Many viruses do change their host.

Here's a skin problem that is caused by a virus (human papiloma virus) but this man has Epidermodysplasia verruciformis a genetic disorder, and an immune system that can't handle it.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ I think I feel sorry for that guy. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 28 '15 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan yep. I think that is an older picture of him, he got much worse. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Apr 28 '15 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ I looked it up: E.v. is a genetic disorder, not a virus. The warts are caused by HPV (human papiloma virus). You named the immune problem, but attributed it as the virus. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 29 '15 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Thanks I read the article a while ago and just skimmed to get the info this time. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Apr 29 '15 at 12:55
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Virus

Virus can and do change a host genome. It does so, not only on a cell by cell basis (as each cell is infected) but can (and has already done) change permanently the genome of a certain species (ie. it can be transmitted to later generations). Upon the completion of the the mapping of the whole human genome material and of the other species, it was found that there is genetic leftovers from virus wich infected humans in the distant past and got transmitted until now. Those virus are inactive and their genetic material does not have effect (its like genetic garbage).

Source: Scientific American

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Yes. Dustin's answer is fine for naturally occurring viruses but a virus could be engineered to insert specific DNA in its host. Doing it on more than lab scale isn't possible at present and it would be incredibly dangerous to do at all--what if it mutated and started inserting something you didn't want??? That's not to say it's impossible, though.

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