What viruses tell us about evolution and immunity: beyond Darwin?

Felix Broecker, Karin Moelling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We describe mechanisms of genetic innovation mediated by viruses and related elements that, during evolution, caused major genetic changes beyond what was anticipated by Charles Darwin. Viruses and related elements introduced genetic information and have shaped the genomes and immune systems of all cellular life forms. None of these mechanisms contradict Darwin's theory of evolution but extend it by means of sequence information that has recently become available. Not only do small increments of genetic information contribute to evolution, but also do major events such as infection by viruses or bacteria, which can supply new genetic information to a host by horizontal gene transfer. Thereby, viruses and virus-like elements act as major drivers of evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-68
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Darwin
  • evolution
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • viruses


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