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A thermodynamic approach to the virus as organism debat

Mon Jan 22 05:13:16 EST 1996

> From:          Robert Brooksbank <rab at sanger.ac.uk>
> Subject:       Re: A thermodynamic approach to the virus as organism debate.

> lansman at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU (Bob Lansman) wrote:
> >        I have been very reluctant to enter this debate which brings out the
> >dogmatist in all of us.  I think, though, it might be helpful to describe a
> >living cell as the simplest existing structure which decreases entropy
> >internally by extracting and degrading energy from its environment.  Viruses
> >depend on living cells to accomplish that task for them and in that sense,
> >we may be able to distinguish them from living cells.

I like - a simple and elegant statement.  Now distinguish viruses and 
cellular lifeforms...!

> I too have been reluctant to be drawn into this unanswerable question. It
> all depends how you want to define "an organism", "life" etc. However I
> do not see how the above concept helps, after all the infected cell is merely
> the viruses environment from which energy is extracted. Clearly a virus is not
> a cell in the usual sense of the word, but that doesn't stop it being a virus.

Quite.  Now for the Rybicki definition (honed by Hawking's recent 
comment that computer viruses deserved consideration as lifeforms:

Life: a phenomenon assocaited with the replication of informational 

                     Ed Rybicki, PhD  
      Dept Microbiology     |  ed at molbiol.uct.ac.za   
   University of Cape Town  | phone: x27-21-650-3265
   Private Bag, Rondebosch  |  fax: x27-21-650 4023
      7700, South Africa    |   
    WWW URL: http://www.uct.ac.za/microbiology/ed.html      
"And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you"

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