Are Viruses Alive?

A virus is a nasty little parasite-like molecule that uses living cells to replicate itself. Viruses affect all living organisms- plants, animals, even bacteria and archaea. There are about 5000 different viruses and are thought to be the most abundant biological entity. If you’re into scifi then you can basically call these guys nanobots. They don’t die. They cant reproduce. They are little killing machines is what they are. rick and morty.png

Though they aren’t quite as vicious as they are shown in Rick and Morty, however, if the show was to stay accurate, and if they were to show it, Dr. Xenon’s death in this scene would’ve been something out of an Alien movie.

What makes something alive? Being born? viruses are “born” when they erupt out of a living cell, killing it. Reproducing? Viruses do that too, they just need a little help from a third party but this doesn’t rule them out. Most plants depend on pollinators to move the pollen to the egg. How about free thought? Its debatable to say that us, the most mentally developed organisms on earth, have free thought. To some, life is just a series of complex pathways and mechanisms. You can argue the definition of life all day but scientists define viruses as a gray area between living and nonliving or “at the edge of life.” Another reason they cannot be ruled out as living organisms and be called complex molecules is because viruses are also subjected to evolutionary pressures. Although it is the living cell doing the replicating for the virus, therefore the one causing any mutations. Regardless, the scientific community has agreed upon the gray area answer.

Regardless of being alive or not, viruses are by far the most persistent, most successful organisms on Earth. Every organism that has ever existed has had some type of run in with viruses. Viral DNA is always being integrated into our own DNA. The DNA can stay hidden in our cells for long periods before the cell finally starts to build the viruses itself ultimately causing its own death. I keep referring to this horrible end of the host cell- I will go into more detail about how this process goes about in the next blog post. But for now, imagine a flash mob. If you were to arrange one, the first thing you would need to do would be to get others to flash with you, right? Viruses can do the same thing. With the dormant DNA in a living cell, the host will reproduce normally, passing on the viruses DNA to its children. Then at some point in the future all these new infected cells “flash” and produce more viruses. Some diseases such as herpes can stay dormant for years. Now if you were able to follow that flash mob analogy then you can see how this could be a problem. However our bodies are pretty good at defending itself. Ill explain next…

 

http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/yellowstone/viruslive.html

http://eol.org/info/458

 

 

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