This post refers to an article that was linked to in the Shoutbox.
Not to detract from the importance of the work, which is phenomenal, but it’s a pity that the word “speciation” is bandied along with it. I think it premature. Maybe my understanding of “species” is outdated, but some teacher must have lead me to understand “species” to mean a group containing organisms genetically sufficiently similar to allow them to have successful sex (in the biological, not recreational, sense) and produce fertile offspring. Obviously there are exceptions. For example, many types of rotifer (and there must be other plants and animals that do the same) reproduce only asexually, and the classic definition presumably don’t apply. Clearly, viruses don’t mate either, but make use of host cells to do most of their reproduction for them. The computer virus has equipped most of us well enough to realise that its biological counterpart replicates without sex. The researchers now seem to hint at a new species in the flask, but based on its novel ability to attack a different host cell. Hmmmm. I guess it could be argued that the host cell is part of reproduction, but still, there really is no direct sexual requirement to make this new species of virus a new species of virus. All of a sudden the concept of “species” is becoming a bit fuzzy.
Not that the researchers have done this, but I don’t see how one can justifiably extrapolate speciation in virusses (with their presumably custom definition for “species”) to “prove inductively” speciation in other animals (classified under a different definition). That does not mean, of course, that we cannot be excited about the possibility.
A subsequent Shoutbox remark,
(16:09:47) BoogieMonster: Now we should just figure out a way to turna crododile into a dog in a single human lifespan and it'll all be over.holds water, because most people understand very clearly the idea of a species when it comes to these organisms. The timescale may be a problem though, which is one of the avantages that viruses offer researchers.
ETA: In the first 10min of this funny podcast, the problem with defining species rigorously comes up. Worth a listen.