How are cells different from viruses?

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jking22 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To understand how cells are different from viruses, one must first understand what a virus is and how it functions. A virus is a small particle that exists as a capsid, which is generally defined as a protein coating that contains and protects the genetic material located inside. Viruses can only function inside a host cell, and while outside of a cell they lack the ability to generate the metabolic activity necessary for protein production and replication. Once a virus infects a host cell, it inserts its own genetic material, in the form of DNA or RNA, into the host cells genetic material, causing the host cell to create many copies of the virus, instead of the necessary proteins for healthy cell function and survival. These new viruses then leave the host cell, causing it to die, and go on to infect more cells. 

The main difference between a cell and a virus is that a cell, whether it is prokaryotic or eukaryotic, is metabolically active, and maintains all the necessary functions for self-replication. This is not possible in viruses. Cells are also different from viruses due to the presence of ribosomes, which are responsible for the process of protein synthesis. Various cell types can also contain many other organelles that are not present in viruses. Also, cells contain a cell membrane to hold in the cytoplasm and all of the components of the cell contained within it, while viruses, other than their external capsid protein coat, lack this feature. From an anatomical stand point cells are also much larger than viruses. 

Hope this helps!

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