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Are Viruses Living?

Ed Rybicki ED at molbiol.uct.ac.za
Mon Apr 24 04:26:59 EST 1995

> From:          rrg at aber.ac.uk (Roy Goodacre)
> Subject:       Re: Are Viruses Living?
> In article <3nbbsj$i9r at d2.tufts.edu> welkin <wjohnson at opal.tufts.edu> writes:
> >ED at molbiol.uct.ac.za ("Ed Rybicki") wrote:
> >> > From:          craigm at sanger.otago.ac.nz (Craig Marshall)
> >> 
> >> > This seems to be a question with no answer. I would argue that there is
> >> > 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 
> >> live?  All that separates them and free-living bacteria is a few 
> >> hundred million years of evolution, after all.
> >> 
> >>And what about the endospores of species such
> >as Bacillus and Clostridium?  They too are nothing
> >until placed in the right environment.  If they are nlving
> >they do a remarkable job of propagating themselves
> >nonetheless.  
> Yes ture but the point here is that they are viable and recoverable.  And 
> yes viable does = life ....

I make the point to my students that bacterial spores that have been 
dessicated and kept for decades are qualitatively no different from 
the tobacco mosaic virus inocula that Beijerinck put away, and which 
were found (apprarently) to be infectious 90-odd years later.

What is the difference between a spore and a virion?  If both can 
withstand dessication to the point where no "life" can be sustained, 
yet reconstitute "life" when given the correct milieu (=water and 
air and nutrients for spores, cells for viruses), then surely both 
have gone through a "non-living but viable" stage?  Viable in the 
sense of "capable of life"?  Virions are just viral spores...!  B-)

 |     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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