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For nearly 20 years, Günther Witzany searched for agents that are able to edit genetic code in living organisms, and for 20 years, he couldn’t find them. But in 2005 he read a book by Luis Villarreal called Viruses and the Evolution of Life, which is an account of how viruses do exactly this—edit genetic code.

“The main life motive for the life of viruses is not disease-causing; the most prominent motive of viruses is to infect organisms and install themselves in the genetic code of host organisms,” explains Witzany. As opposed to the common conception of viruses as enemies, Witzany places viruses in a new light, under which they are seen as regulatory tools for host gene expression and replication, defenders against invading parasites, and adaptive agents that can actively change the genome when necessary.

Witzany also discusses his concept of life as a communicative structure, what his original expertise—the philosophy of language—has to say about the mechanistic use of certain terms often used in biology, the role of epigenetics in the production of proteins, and more.

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