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viruse debate: Are they alive?

Martin Hewlett hewlett at brahms.biosci.arizona.edu
Tue Jan 24 10:53:46 EST 1995

Denni Schnapp <ds4 at st-andrews.ac.uk> wrote:
 I like Steven Levy's ("Artifi-
> cial Life", Penguin Books 1993) suggestion that perhaps we should look at
> the difference between "life" and "dead" more as a diffuse transition, viruses
> being more alive than rocks and less alive than their hosts... Any suggestions?

This brought to mind a quote I saw once from A. E. Boycott, given in his
presidential address to the Royal Society of Medicine in 1928:

"Alive or dead is a stupid question, because it does not exhaust the possibilities.
Our general notion of the universe leads us to expect that we shall meet with
things that are not so alive as a sunflower, and not so dead as a brick."

(A.E. Boycott, "Transition from Live to Dead:  The Nature of
Filterable Viruses,"  quoted in "Viral Infections of the Nervous
System" by Richard T. Johnson.

Dr. Martin Hewlett
Associate Professor
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ  85721
FAX:  (602)621-3709
E-mail:  hewlett at brahms.biosci.arizona.edu

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