There is increasing interest in evolutionary algorithms that have variahle-length genomes and/or location independent genes. However, our understanding of such algorithms both theoretically and empirically is much less well developed than the more traditional fixed-length, fixed-location ones. Recent studies with VIV (Virtual Virus), a variable length, GA-based computational model of viral evolution, have revealed several emergent phenomena of both biological and computational interest. One interesting and somewhat surprising result is that the length of individuals in the population self-adapts in direct response to the mutation rate applied, so the GA adaptively strikes the balance it needs to successfully solve the problem. Over a broad range of mutation rates, genome length tends to increase dramatically in the early phases of evolution, and then decrease to a level based on the mutation rate. The plateau genome length (i.e., the average length of individuals in the final population) generally increases in response to an increase in the base mutation rate. Furthermore, the mutation operator rate and adapted length resulting in the best problem solving performance is about one mutation per individual. This is also the rate at which mutation generally occurs in biological systems, suggesting an optimal, or at least biologically plausible, balance of these operator rates. These results suggest that an important property of these algorithms is a considerable degree of self-adaptation.