Are Viruses Alive? – Viruses

by Vincent Racaniello, PhD

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    00:01 A really interesting question which you may be thinking about, certainly lots of people do, is: Are viruses alive? I posted this on my blog a number of years ago and it always gets a lot of activity. So let's see what the results have been so far. So are viruses alive? Yes, 1600 votes; no, 1700 votes; something in between, 1600 votes; and I don't know, 250 votes. So you can see people are pretty divided among yes, no, something in between. So people really don't understand what viruses are. But I've thought about this problem for many, many years and really just a few years ago I came up with what I think is a good answer and let's see if you believe it as well. I think a virus is an organism that has two phases. Now you can sort of think of it as a seed and a plant, a virus has a phase which is a virus particle. There is a virus particle that can go from host to host, get inside the cells of the host and reproduce. The virus particle itself can't be living, it's just nucleic acid and protein, maybe a membrane, it's an inert particle. So I don't see how this could be living, but it certainly has the potential to live and that potential is realized when the virus gets inside of a cell. So that's the second phase of a virus lifecycle, the infected cell.

    01:31 The infected cell, the virus gets into the cell, it redirects all the processes of the cell to make more virus particles. That is certainly living, but the virus particle part is not. So when you say virus, you're not just talking about the virus particle, you're talking about this organism with two phases, and so there you can really answer the question: Are viruses alive?

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Are Viruses Alive? – Viruses by Vincent Racaniello, PhD is from the course Microbiology: Introduction.

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Viruses can cause infected cells to make more virus particles.
    2. Viruses contain nucleic acid.
    3. Viruses can enter into symbiotic relationships with cells.
    4. Viruses can enter the nucleus of cells.
    5. Viruses have three phases of existence.

    Author of lecture Are Viruses Alive? – Viruses

     Vincent Racaniello, PhD

    Vincent Racaniello, PhD

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