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Are Viruses Living?

Ed Rybicki ED at molbiol.uct.ac.za
Thu Apr 20 07:13:42 EST 1995

> From:          craigm at sanger.otago.ac.nz (Craig Marshall)
> Subject:       Re: Are Viruses Living?

> This seems to be a question with no answer. I would argue that there is
> some essential difference between the life of say, a bacterium and that
> of a virus. Viruses have the property of replication under very
> specific cirmcumstances (ie within a host cell) but I believe there
> some chemicals are capable of similar activity (but I can give no
> references for this claim). The property of replication is not
> equivalent to life in the sense that a bacterium (or whatever) is
> alive.

This is snowballing nicely...B-)

The above does not wash: the only difference between some bacteria and 
some viruses is that the former have membranes surrounding them and 
dividing them from the cell, and have their own tRNAs and ribosomes.  
Otherwise, the smallest bacteria / bacteria with the smallest genomes 
are as much dependent on being inside living cells (in that they are absolutely 
dependent on a wide range of substrates that they can't make) as are viruses, 
some of which (eg. phycodnaviruses, pooxviruses, iridescent viruses) 
have bigger genomes.  If you don't know WHICH chemicals are capable 
of self-replication, then it is a little ingenuous to make the 
claim...!  And do you consider mitochondria or chloroplasts to be a 
live?  All that separates them and free-living bacteria is a few 
hundred million years of evolution, after all.

But it doesn't really matter wroth a damn....
 |     Ed Rybicki, PhD      |  ed at molbiol.uct.ac.za   |
 |    Dept Microbiology     | University of Cape Town |
 | Private Bag, Rondebosch  |   7700, South Africa    |
 |   fax: x27-21-650 4023   | phone: x27-21-650-3265  |
 ------WWW URL: http://www.uct.ac.za/microbiology------
   "And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
      From the profit he's made on your dreams..."

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