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Robert J Nikolai

October 9, 2015
Biology 105

Are Viruses living?

To answer this question we need to define Life and Viruses.
Viruses were not discovered until 1892, through research of Tobacco
mosaic disease. This disease causes discoloration in the leaves and lowers
the number of future plants. Dimitri Ivanowsky, convinced that Bacteria was
the culprit for disease, used a filter small enough to separate bacteria from
the sap of the tobacco plants. After filtration, the sap still carried the
contagious disease. Still Dimitris resolve held, that a living microprobe, like
bacteria, was the cause. Martinus Beijerinck confirmed his hypothesis by
experimentally observing the infection in the sap replicating itself. He
proposed that the disease is induced by organisms even smaller and less
complex than the Bacteria. Today, using the electron microscope, we can
visibly observe Viruses.
Beijerinck and Ivanonwskys hypothesizes called the microbes living.
But, Do Viruses have the characteristics of life? This includes:
Being made up of cells
Ability to use energy
Ability adapt to environment
Ability to reproduce
A Virus is, most simply, a bundle of nucleic acids wrapped up in a shell
made of basic proteins. Viruses can also have membranous envelope
surrounding the capsid, enzymes, and other structural components. While
not exactly the traditional model of a cell this structure is very similar and
should not be easily dismissed.
Viruses have been found to infect every kingdom of life. Just like we
have evolved, the virus have as well. To keep up with the changing life forms
the viruses have had to adapt. Viruses have mutated from Influenza to
Shingles to Ebola (Pictured). That is another characteristic on our list,
including, adapting and Homeostasis.

Viruses is
do not have the
equipment to
unaided. They
must insert
their genome
into a host cell
and use its
resources to
replicate into
more viruses. Inside the cell the virus uses energy, must use homeostasis
and grow and development offspring. To reproduce they copy their genetic
code and pass it on, along with some organic components taken from the
host cell to their duplicates. 10,000 new viruses then burst from the cell
killing it and proceeding to their next victim. Whether or not what happens
inside a host cell can be called characteristics of life is still largely
Even with these extraordinary similarities to organisms, outside the
cell, the virus is just a piece of genetic information drifting aimlessly. They
cannot move or metabolize energy to create resources on their own. They
must, by a slim chance, attach to a cell to perform any of these functions,
however, most parasites cannot reproduce without the use of a host.
This blog post pieces together common arguments for virus living
hood. It is not meant to convince the reader that our definition of life is
wrong, rather to argue that viruses cannot simply be labeled and pigeonholed alongside all other nonliving material.

Urry, Lisa A., Michael L. Cain, Robert B. Jackson, Peter V. Minorsky, and Steven A.
Wasserman. "Chapter 19, Viruses." Campbell Biology. By Jane B. Reece and Neil A. Campbell.
10th ed. Boston: Benjamin Cummings / Pearson, 2014. 392-406. Print.
About-ebola. Digital image. CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 08 Oct. 2015.
Web. <>.