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Viruses as Organisms

Bruce Phillips bap at MED.PITT.EDU
Mon Jan 22 11:43:41 EST 1996


	It seems to me that the ability to distinguish viruses from plasmids, 
i.e. whether both or neither are organisms, is a bit thornier than I had
heretofore considered.  Both plasmids and viruses are capable of self-
duplication and their distinction is further muddled by the fact that,
positive-sense viruses (except retroviruses) contain nucleic acids that are
infectious.  Well, you might say, viruses exhibit a life cycle by (passively)
transferring themselves from one cell or host to another.  But plasmids
clearly do that as well, albeit presumably with lesser efficiency.  Remember
RTFs- one of the early concepts associated with plasmids.  And the fact is
that both plasmids and viruses depend on pre-existing cellular processes
in order to replicate.  It may be an academic discussion, we all can
distinguish plasmids from viruses, but providing a definition of viruses
to students that distinguishes them from plasmids, should one care to do 
that, is more difficult than I had formerly conceived.



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