V for Victorious Viruses

Oon Chong Lin

The source of inspiration for this effort of mine came from a book by Carl Zimmer, titled Life's Edge (Penguin Random House, 2021).

Hey! Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,
They are elementary Greek to us!
For we are champs, both near and far,
And vexed we are for being called thus.

We boast a hallowed heritage
And ever since the dawn of day,
We've teemed in trillions in all age
And everywhere we all hold sway.1

We live with hosts of countless breed
To yield new genes with great aplomb,
And strengthening bonds we oft succeed:
Genetic shuffling in every form.2

We line the nose and clad the skin,
And all internal avenue
While trillions crowd the intestine
To yield a trusty virome too.3

Bacteriophages – a special breed –
Hijack their prey to generate
Huge hordes of viruses indeed,
Which, freed, will further propagate.4

"A piece of bad news", Sir Pete laments,
"Enwrapped in protein," he might say.5
We take umbrage with such comments –
Pronouncements of naivety.
But, note, that teeming lots of our fragments
Do help build the human DNA!6


  1. Life's Edge (Penguin Random House, 2021:210): There are more viruses in a litre of seawater than there are human beings on the entire planet. The same is true for a spoonful of dirt. If we could count up all the viruses on Earth, they would outnumber every form of cell-based life combined, perhaps by a factor of ten.
  2. Life's Edge (Penguin Random House, 2021:210): The diversity of viruses is also colossal. Some virologists have estimated that there may be trillions of species of viruses on the planet. When virologists find new viruses, they are often from a major lineage no one knew about before.
  3. Life's Edge (Penguin Random House, 2021:210-11): Viruses also have peaceful relationships with many of their hosts. Our healthy bodies are home to trillions of viruses, collectively known as a virome. Most of them infect the trillions of bacteria, fungi and other single-celled members of our microbiome. Some studies suggest that the i .human virome keeps our microbiome in balance, contributing to our own well-being.
  4. Life's Edge (Penguin Random House, 2021:211): Viruses can also donate new genes to the genomes of their hosts. Bacteria can gain resistance to antibiotics through a viral infection, for example.
  5. "... a virus is a piece of bad news wrapped up in protein" – a quote by Sir Peter Medawar, Order of Merit, Fellow of the Royal Society, in his Nobel Prize address in 1960.
  6. Life's Edge (Penguin Random House, 2021:211): Our own genome contains tens of thousands of viral fragments, adding up to eight percent of our - DNA. Some of those fragments have evolved into genes and switches for turning genes on and off. If viruses are lifeless, then lifelessness is stitched into our being.

Oon Chong Lin , a diagnostic radiologist for more than 65 years, has been versifying since young. He served as SMA's Honorary Treasurer for a couple of years when the late Prof Arthur Lim was the Association's President.


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