Are viruses alive?

The question of whether viruses are living or not always provokes lively discussion. On TWiV 59 we decided to take an informal poll of our listeners on this issue. Let’s open up the poll to readers of virology blog.

This survey had been online since November 2009 and had collected several thousand responses. SurveyMonkey decided to delete all of those, so we are starting over as of January 2013, using a different survey site.

As of November 2013, the second survey site decided to charge users and simply deleted our data without asking. I’m leaving this page up until I find another survey site, mainly because there are quite a few comments below that I don’t want to lose.

In January 2014 I added a new poll. Let’s see how this fares.

Pick one:
  • jud

    My opinion… a kidney does not reproduce on its own… but its alive… a mitochondria cannot live by itself… but its “alive” …. i think viruses are more a component of life than we realize… it would appear our evolution has been driven in many cases by endogenous retroviruses…. we might not be what we are today without them…

  • Haemo-chrome

    They ceaselessly roam the blue earth, seeking red blood. They are among us, yet forever apart.
    They are legion, yet invisible

    They are undead.

  • Andrew

    Part of life, but not life itself.

  • Ellen Skogsberg

    Alive and lurking

  • Pravin N69

    i think they r alive, not because they cause diseases, but they live in perticular conditions, they reproduce, they maintain progeny, most imp they r like their precursors( ancesters). “like begets like”.

  • ixchelkali

    Define “alive.”

  • profvrr

    Alive: the ability to metabolize, maintain homeostasis, grow, respond
    to stimuli, reproduce, and evolve.

  • Jojo

    Does something need all these to be considered alive, or just some? Mules cannot reproduce so thus are not alive if all of this is required. Republicans cannot evolve so are they alive? However, if only some of these are required than what about crystals…are they alive? (They grow). I think the definition of “alive” is much more difficult than this one.

  • ErikCarter

    They don't seem to be any more alive than prions or viroids, just more complex.

  • profvrr

    I would say that all the properties must be fulfilled in order to be
    alive; however not everyone agrees on a definition of life, and there
    is a great deal of debate on what constitutes living. There will never
    be a consensus, but it is a very good way to consider the qualities of
    living things.

  • Wongeunson

    Viruses are not dead.

  • avirologistlikeu

    It does not matter if they are alive or not. They do what they do and they always will whether they do or do not fit into our definitions of being alive or dead

  • Edwin

    Viruses seem to be a piece of information (code) that has found a way to be copied. No metabolism, no homeostasis, no growth, almost no response to stimuli (they lock onto and enter the host cell), the cell reproduces them, and they evolve through mistakes in copying.

  • Edwin

    I agree, viruses seem like escaped genetic material interacting with life.

  • thomas smith


    active and inactive (better usage)

    the end.

    thomas smith

  • Newstudent

    They may not contain nuclei, but they’ve still got nucleic acid in their capsid/envelope. Also consider: if they can’t survive outside of their host then how do they manage to still replicate and find themselves within a host in the first place? Some of them aerosolize for gosh sakes.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm, I’m surprised that the answers “No” and “They are something in-between” are tied at 32%. I wonder what it means for something two be “both life and non-life” or “neither life nor non-life”. I would have thought that living vs. non-living was a true dichotomy with no middle ground. Quite interesting!

  • Manuel Sánchez

    Viruses are the great pretenders of life

  • John Innodence

    the definition of “alive” is a wide-spread term which can be used in many terms. the term used in the poll was meant to be as: Alive as an organism. your own definition is rationally in the form of a system. viruses are technically inatimate bio-chemicals consisting of mutated dna with a protein coat
    this will be continued later

  • Miguel Talledo

    Viruses are beyond life.

  • Redracyz28

    they were the first aliens.

  • ahmed

    Why we are in race to put Viruses to any of the group,either living or non living…They are very distinct than any other life form existing till now on the planet. Why cant we just accept them as they are.For instance,DNA with specific replication start site, till it get transfected in to any cell lines,it behaves as inert,but when it gets in to nucleus,it starts replicating or expressing.So Viruses too do behave in the same fashion…

  • Lelandprop

    great point

  • Reortega84

    i would call them, “singularity”…

  • Jorge

    I think that they are alive! the question isn’t the best , i thunk that better question could be how they make too be alive in the long way of earth living time ? all depend on the way wee see life … thats the main point to understand if virus are alive or not!

  • Brett

    Viruses are the most successful organism to have ever evolved on this planet; capable of infecting every other living thing including bacteria. Are they alive? I believe very much so. They learn, evolve, mutate, harness the host’s immune system to prevent its own attack and learn to keep the host alive so that it lives too. My money is on M.S. M.E. Lupus and other cancers being caused by virus. The 21st century’s task is to understand them better.

  • H Singh

    I think it is a matter of opinion, whether viruses are alive. What is alive and what is not alive? What is the difference between alive and dead? Ultimately it is more of a philosophy question in my opinion. It is hard to definitively say who is right or wrong. Each persons opinion is going to be influenced by their beliefs and upbringing, as well as their level of knowledge.

  • Robblage

    lololololololololololololololololololololol nipple

  • Robblage

    khsfdaukofsyhnugfvuydsinvuydsuilwes moobs 

  • Robblage

    they are inbetween

  • Robblage


  • Robblage

    i like bum

  • Robblage

    these are firm these are hard and these are yours


  • johnathan

    im horny 

  • Megan

    i lick balls 

  • Megan

    eat my shite 

  • Megan

    eat my shite 

  • Megzdlee

    will you go out with me i will suck you dry 

  • megan danielle lee

    you sir are a huge anal bead 

  • megan danielle lee

    no its not you prick 

  • Megan lee

    i know but i want your anal beads in my mouth mmmmmmmm tasty 

  • Megan lee

    i agree he is a giant prick 

  • barbra


  • megan danielle lee

    shut your mouth u paki suicide bastard 

  • megan danielle lee

    no ur mom was 

  • megan danielle lee

    some one has dislexia ^ 

  • barbra

    he is a packi he was in 911 boom boom 

  • barbra

    some ones a retard 

  • megan danielle lee

     u like to bum blokes behind bike sheds

  • megan danielle lee

    u chinky shit bag