Are Viruses Living?

Let’s first define life. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, life is “an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.”

Viruses are not living things. Viruses are complicated assemblies of molecules, including proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates, but on their own they can do nothing until they enter a living cell. Without cells, viruses would not be able to multiply. Therefore, viruses are not living things.

When a virus encounters a cell, a series of chemical reactions occur that lead to the production of new viruses. These steps are completely passive, that is, they are predefined by the nature of the molecules that comprise the virus particle. Viruses don’t actually ‘do’ anything. Often scientists and non-scientists alike ascribe actions to viruses such as employing, displaying, destroying, evading, exploiting, and so on. These terms are incorrect because viruses are passive, completely at the mercy of their environment.

Update: See a more recent post for my thoughts on this question.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tony 17 June 2012, 9:20 am

    Viruses exist there is no doubt. However, it the isolation and charcterization of the alleged pathogenic ones that is still in question and remains problematic. Although HIV has never been effectively isolated to date I do not deny that such a virus exists, but that remains to be scientifically proven – so far that is not the case.

  • Crawford 17 June 2012, 1:06 pm

    If one presumes the scientific method one assumes that all findings are tentative and subject to research and better understanding. Tony, though entertaining, is spouting DOGMA, an assumption that predefines the conclusion. Any organism will be either alive or dead some time in its cycle of existence. Virology assumes some prior knowledge of other disciplines and methods. Pathology and physiology, and microbiology, and other basic life sciences as starters. On the dogma end of things, expecting life to fit Marxist, Jesuit, fundamentalist or conservative political presuppositions will not parse.

  • Tony 18 June 2012, 3:13 pm

    There is perhaps enough information on this blogsite to help go some way into answering your question regarding what is officially designated as “HIV infection”. Whether it is caused by a retrovirus or something else is another matter, because there is more to viruses than what you will  find being discussed here and it tends to be controversial.

    I can tell you with some degree of certainty that the more synthetic drugs you take for the condition (if you take any at all) the more they will subject your body to biochemical stress and possible adverse reactions. Why? Because the majority of synthetic drugs do not have any nutritional value – they do not occur in nature, they are alien to the body and disrupt its enzyme systems and other biochemical and electrochemical processes – they are at best ‘tolerated’ and may in some cases give symptomatic relief. They do not tackle the root cause(s) of illness or disease, because they were not designed to do that.

    Energy follows thought, as you think so you become – change your thought and consider incorporating some natural alternatives to assist your body in the deployment of its own natural healing mechanisms and defences. It is your choice and your choice alone whatever path or paths you decide to take. I wish you well.

  • Tony 18 June 2012, 3:24 pm

    Sedunn microbes do exhibit ‘intellegence’ some more so than others – bacteria for example. You’ll find examples on the net.

  • Tony 18 June 2012, 3:59 pm

    If there’s no life without energy, and thermodynamics deals with the energy that is consitutive of life (among other things) and yet has nothing to say about the definition of life then something is radically amiss with both Schrodinger and thermodynamics!

  • ima slap ya 21 June 2012, 8:14 pm

    your a dousche

  • Akociimheii 27 June 2012, 6:33 pm


  • Pugazh Adam 1 July 2012, 10:24 am

    this page is the best source for biology in the the universe for its most known and unsolved puzzle.

  • Sammey Karimaei 9 July 2012, 7:31 am

    Thanks to  Morgan for his/her awesome explanation and to Britlizard3 his/her awesome example like they saidScience proves that viruses are non-living
    things because it douse not carry out the function of reproduction and
    metabolism of an organism. On the other hand viruses do reproduce when in a
    cell.  Viruses that are dormant are just
    like when you are asleep, because when you are asleep it douse not mean you are
    dead. Viruses are dormant when they aren’t in a cell it doesn’t mean they aren’t
    alive. When in the dormant stage they are in a crystal form. When they get into
    their right environment they become active. True they need a host but they have
    the ability to manipulate the cell into giving it materials and energy to grow.

  • tommykay 15 July 2012, 3:23 pm

    Children.  Think before you type.  Particularly if you cannot spell the words you use. 

  • directioner1995 22 July 2012, 8:26 am

    Thanks for the answer to my lecture notes(:

  • Ervin_primero 25 July 2012, 8:46 am

    thanks the tips for my homework

  • Meow 25 July 2012, 10:34 am

    I love you. Thanks so much.

  • Pushpamanshrestha 28 July 2012, 1:39 pm


    That’s true, this is ever ending
    debate on virus has life or not, but virus has life. Really, Galileo said that
    earth is rotating around the sun, but at that time, established myth… sun was
    rotating around earth, he was against the myth, so he was punished. Pasteur
    disproved the spontaneous generation theory of life but again Miller experiment
    verified that life is originated from the non-living. Let’s hope one day there
    will be measurement device of life will be discovered, this debate will be over.

    Energy producing machineries are
    missing in virus, so it became inactive outside the host, but when it gets
    suitable host then it ruled over in that component. I hope you had read this
    article, however please read again from this link

  • Pushpamanshrestha 28 July 2012, 1:45 pm>

  • Pushpamanshrestha 28 July 2012, 1:50 pm

  • Casielovesslipknot 13 August 2012, 4:54 am

    So does that mean that every part of our living body would have certain specific types of viruses then?

  • freeeekbanana 20 August 2012, 7:39 am

    hey thanks really much for the article!(:
    was a lot of help to me on my homework assignment as well as an interesting topic.

  • Sapp22 21 August 2012, 7:02 pm

    I Got A Essay I Gotta Write That’s Due Tomorrow.. But i Know She’ll Know I Copied And Paced, Because Its The First Site To Pop Up Lol.. Great Info Though..

  • Ross 30 August 2012, 7:46 pm

    Host cells are given instructions on the cellular level (enzymes) that do this, as the virus takes over the reproductive processes of the cell, so as they replicate the viruses genetics and produce new infectious cells

  • Ross 30 August 2012, 7:47 pm

    Can a human reproduce without a partner, it is a different form of reproduction, they are alive just different from our understanding of alive, scientists are as over-esteemed as the religious leaders of yesteryear.

  • bordz 7 September 2012, 7:41 pm

    virus are living things. the ones your telling us is just a phase in their life, so you see Viruses are living things

  • Rosebread 11 September 2012, 9:18 am

    Hi there, I’ve read somewhere that viruses are pathogens/infectious agents, and when I looked up pathogens/infectious agents, the definition is that they are microbes i.e. micro-ORGANISMS. However, based on my understanding, organisms are living, but in my opinion, viruses aren’t living, though they behave like they do when they infect a living cell. So is there a better definition of a virus? And is anything that contains DNA or genetic material considered a living thing?

  • pimpster 12 September 2012, 8:27 pm

    haha ya i awesome info my homework’s defiantly getting an A+

  • tanya 16 September 2012, 5:56 am

    sapp22….all schools, colleges, universities ect use a program called turnitin. they submit all essays to turnitin and it tells them if it has been plagarised. turnitin has access to all internet sources and all essays submitted to it. dont copy and paste you will be caught. its not worth it

  • bigvagina 24 September 2012, 7:47 am

    hi 🙂

  • swag 24 September 2012, 5:54 pm

    they use the cell to reproduce. without the cell they cant

  • cristine 26 September 2012, 2:58 pm

    lets not go over board! If they were completely passive they would be harmless. everything responds with action.

  • meseret kebede indire 27 September 2012, 12:36 pm

    @ paul cook if you say like that everything is gone be obligate parasite.because plants also rely on soil, water.too

  • JWOWW22 30 September 2012, 11:51 am

    thanks this helped a lot

  • Valannin 1 October 2012, 11:30 pm

    Someone like you won’t survive long in higher education anyway.

  • Nijojo 3 October 2012, 3:51 pm

    I have heard this before. I’m curious to hear a discussion on how a prion compares with a virus in terms of being living or not.

  • Nijojo 3 October 2012, 3:54 pm

    I was under the impression the cause of the disease is more to do with the destruction of the host cells and the body’s response than the presence of the virus itself? Is this not correct?

  • YaPheT!! 9 October 2012, 5:26 pm

    Not living things?.. Why in the other books it is a living organism??/..

  • saul barbosa 21 October 2012, 2:50 am

    HELLO. apparently you got a c in science & reading. re-read definition of life in the intro. there are 4 qualities that require something to be alive and viruses do no meet the minimum. plus they keep stating that a virus can do nothing without a host cell….
    saul barbosa

  • pratik 23 October 2012, 7:49 am

    Dear Vincent,
    I agree to what you said above. . .however viruses do undergo evolution in order to attain better adaptability and to counteract the host defences. If viruses are non-living, then can non-living things undergo evolution? Can you please shed some light.

  • Jessica 25 October 2012, 9:09 am


  • Paul Cook 25 October 2012, 11:26 pm

    I don’t see how anything isn’t an obligate parasite in that sense. Since that’s the reason people are saying viruses aren’t alive, I don’t see why humans would be alive if that makes viruses not alive.
    You could say viruses are obligate intra-cellular parasites (in the replication phase) but there are bacteria that spend their entire lives (not just replication) inside bacteria so they wouldn’t be alive by that standard.

  • Paul Cook 25 October 2012, 11:30 pm

    Life is anything that can replicate with heredity; viruses can do that. Viruses can metabolize by proxy. Humans don’t have the enzymes to make almost half the amino acids we need, so we don’t metabolize if we’re defining things that needs other organisms help to metabolize as not metabolizing.

  • Garrett 4 November 2012, 12:34 pm

    hah science teacher ur were wrong

  • Beary 5 November 2012, 9:26 pm

    Bear hunt

  • beary 5 November 2012, 9:32 pm


  • mark 11 November 2012, 10:50 pm

    they’re like microscopic robots

  • BoB 26 November 2012, 7:00 pm

    Thank U