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Are viruses living organisms?

Giovanni Maga maga at vetbio.unizh.ch
Wed Dec 13 06:39:56 EST 1995

In article <4a4sa6$a3n at threed.uchc.edu>, rwilson at panda.uchc.edu (rwilson) wrote:

>    Viruses are certainly NOT living things. 

Well, to make justice of such an absolute statement, you should add maybe
"I think so". Indeed, I believe exactly the opposite.

>things have 'meaning' only
> when they can be read. 

But the genetic information within the virus is always readable even if
it's outside the cell. Being readable by the correct machinery
(replication, transcription, translation) is an intrinsic feature of every
codon, wherever it is. Otherwise, according to your view, what makes
meaningful a sequence is what is able to read it (i.e. RNA or DNA
polymerases or ribosomal apparatus). But since these components are all
encoded as DNA sequences, what makes meaningful DNA is, after all, DNA.

>When a virus is inside of a cell it is part of
> that living thing ie. ,it participates in the life of the cell but it
> is no more an independant living thing than the nucleus or the
> ribosomes are independant living things.

Well, actually viruses do not participate in the life of the cell...they
activate their own program (encoded by their DNA or RNA genome) in order
to make progeny. The nucleus isn't able to reproduce a full functional
copy of itself anywhere it is placed. An intact cell can. Nucleus and
cytoplasm are strictly interdependent. Ribosomes cannot reproduce
themselves as well (they do not contain readable information, the genetic
information flow, up to now, has not been shown to be reversable from
aminoacid to nucleic acid sequence).
Viruses are comparable to parasites. They also need to be in a right
enviroment (host's cell) to fully replicate...aren't they alive as well?
BTW, these are only my personal thougths, as respectable as yours and
equally questionable.
Best Regards, G. Maga.

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