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Are viruses alive?

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whitespace | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 14, 2013 at 8:57 PM via web

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Are viruses alive?

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broscover | Student, College Sophomore | Honors

Posted September 14, 2013 at 9:22 PM (Answer #1)

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This is a question that is debated by many. Viruses are the fine line between living and non-living matter. When a virus is not attached to a host cell it is inactive, in this form it is easy to say that a virus is not alive. However when a virus attaches itself to a host cell it is going to do one of two things; use the cells reproductive "machinery" to make copies of itself or insert itself into the host cells DNA. When a virus uses a host cell's reproductive "machinery" so to speak it makes copies and then it will leave the cell one of a couple different ways killing the host cell. If it inserts itself into the DNA's genetic material then it will stay there until a time when the conditions are better and then reproduce itself.  It can be argued that doing these things means a virus is alive, or shows at least some properties of life making this a difficult question to simply say yes or no too!

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ncchemist | eNotes Employee

Posted September 15, 2013 at 12:31 AM (Answer #2)

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The question about defining viruses as living organisms or not is a question that has been around for some time and continues to be debated by biologists.  To a very real extent, the answer depends on how you define what life is.  Many people use a set of criteria to define life and most include the criterion that life includes the ability to reproduce.  Viruses cannot reproduce on their own.  They must use the cells of a host organism in order to replicate their viral DNA and produce a new virus.  While many parasitic organisms use a host to facilitate their life processes, a virus has to use the actual cell replication machinery to replicate its DNA.  So unlike a parasite which uses the host as a source of food and energy to replicate, the virus cannot replicate on its own without using the host cell.  So if you use the ability to self-reproduce as a criterion for life, depending on how you interpret it will depend on your view if viruses are alive or not.  It really is a personal judgement call.

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