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.

Are viruses alive?
Pick one:
  • megan danielle lee

    like ur cock part of you but doesnt work  

  • barbrah

    me hi nave dicksexier 

  • megan danielle lee

     i am ur asian wife come back to bed u erectile dysfunctioning twat ball

  • megan danielle lee
  • Debs

    viruses are parasites. they need a host to replicate themselves. 

  • Brooke

    I was in the school of thought that they were NOT alive, but recent discoveries like mimivirus & mamavirus make me second guess – although they can not metabolize by themselves, there is a fuzzy line between having an affinity to grow within a host and bringing your own machinery and actually requiring host proteins for replication & subsequent spread.. AH, I’m TORN. I’m going with “in-between”.

    -Brooke (smallerquestions.org)

  • Brooke

    This wasn’t a good point at all, we’re not talking about organelles inside of a organism – we’re talking about WHOLE organisms. To distinguish between these is the most important point of the argument.

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    I’ve modified my thinking recently, also based on the mimivirus story.
    I believe the virion is not living, but the infected cell is living.
    See http://www.virology.ws/2010/07/22/the-virus-and-the-virion/ for
    more.

  • Raw937

    Of course, they are alive!

    We are just calling the particle the virus which is wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Particle is the virion, the virus is THE INFECTED CELL!

    Example HIV-1, infects macrophages this infected cell is a zombie expressing gp120 on its cell surface it now can infect other cells and form Syncytia  (fusion cell) which allows the virion to infect many cells instead of just one….

    Perfect examples however:
    you don’t count eggs of a chickens, chickens do u?or pollen trees?

    ITS the same deal here…

  • Boo2

    viruses are not necessarily alive as much to the fact is that they usually get into your body by an open cut, touching your mouth, nose, eyes, or even the food you consume. The viruses for example if they are on your hand then you touch food(apple) at the grocery store put it down then if another  person comes by picks up that same food but it and then by it and ingest that is also another way of getting a virus. So when doctors tell you to please wash your hands before you eat after you are done eating, and done using the facilities  they MEAN IT SO DO IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Protogonus

    Viruses are simply and literally “micro-machines,” by all accounts, whose true purposes, while obviously of tremendous medical and ecological significance, are partly hidden.  The first enigma is that their “life” is at best DERIVATIVE.  Life’s powers are thus temporally reserved and logistically segregated in non-living, mechanical systems of great complexity and ingenuity.  Why?  If they are necessary (and Leibniz, quoting Aristotle, said nature, i.e., God, “does nothing in vain”), why are they here at all, when most or all of their microbiological functions are duplicated by bacteria, fungi, and amoebae anyway.  Bacteria, fungi, and amoebae, of course, are very much alive.

  • Protogonus

    At minimum, each virus particle is an exquisitely crafted machine with a specifically designed constructive and destructive purpose and a necessary place, therefore, in the general scheme.  In fact, the organismic in general crafts and maintains them.  They are “creatures” of the creatures, then, and not, perhaps, of the Creator!  An “inorganic” counter-image of an organic reflection, then–for finite life otherwise reflects Eternal Life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Lalonde/653863812 Matthew Lalonde

    Of course it’s all in the definition of life. To me, the question is not meaningful until all parties agree on an authority for defining life.
    I avoid this argument because I’m not sure it’s productive. There’s valid points of view on both sides, but I feel it’s
    purely semantic/political (I’m thinking abortion laws and
    views) and no unifying answer could come before establishing a defining authority. I correct students when they write “virus life cycle”. I tell them that, if they’re not interested in taking a stand, they should just call it the “virus replication cycle” and leave the life argument to the philosophers.
    I don’t mean to chastise other people who post on this thread, I just wanted to weigh in on how I think about this question.

  • nonu

    viruses are non living things…but when there enter inside an organism [ their host ] they turn living. So actually we cannot classify them as living or non-living

  • The Boss

    Shut up dirty slut bag

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Abdulhafid/100000374280302 Adam Abdulhafid

    Viruses are an organic nanobot. They are are coded by the two oldest programming languages: RNA and DNA. Their machinery is made of proteins that carry out the work. They are held in an inactive state until they reach a host which unbeknownst to the host will activate them just by coming into contact with them. Once activated the mechanisms are set in motion and the programming takes over.

  • Raw937

    Hello Again,
    Currently, the debate on whether viruses are alive or non-living has been around since there discovery of  “unfilterable agents,” back in the late 1890s.
    I offer some evidence for the reclassification of viruses and introduce the word virion.

    First, science got it wrong! This is explanation of how.

    Do you count egg and sperm as people?
    Do you count grains of pollen as trees?

    This is what we did with viruses, we counted the virion (viral particle) as the virus.
    We where however counting them as we would count pollen grains as trees or egg/sperm as people.

    The virus is truly the infected cell, where as the virion (viral particle) is the egg/sperm or the replicative unit of the virus.

    Examples of infected cells acting like a infectous agent
    HIV-1 (classical example) – forms Syncytia
    HIV-1 infection causes aggregated fused abnormal cells which are caused by the expression of the gp120 protein on the cell surface. These syncytia can infect other healthy cells and cause adhesion of cells.
    Polio, adenovirus, influenza A also are known to cause this problem.

    Giant virus and virophage example
    CroV & mavirus

    CroV a giant virus infects a protist, however late in the replication of this giant virus a “virophage,” mavirus enters the host cell protist and hijacks the giant virus host replication center then begins to replicate thus making the giant virus CroV sick!

    Many parasites  Plasmodium & Enamoeba can’t REPLICATE ON THERE OWN!!
    As they need a host to complete there life cycle.

    Here is a good note about this in nature
    http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080806/full/454677a.html
    As explained by the top virologists in the world..
    It explains another giant virus/virophage system

    Think about it, but this is the new dogma of virology…

  • http://mpoisk.net/search/%D0%B2%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%8B+%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BD Voronin

    idiot

  • http://mpoisk.net/ No

    see securelist.com/en/

  • marcia stone

    No if you’re looking at the infecting particle not the viral nest. It’s like judging whether or not a human is alive by looking at sperm. However, Wimmer did make one from a bunch of chemicals so they can be both alive and not alive. Viruses are wonderful little beings and we haven’t paid them as much attention as we should have. fortunately, scientists are now making up for lost time.

  • Doostierose

    what are you like 13 , because someone name is ahmed they are packi?. Plus your government blew down the towers any dumb ass

  • aFrog

    I think the whole definition of living is ambiguous. Are animals such as ourselves alive? Or are we merely complex systems of physics/chemistry? I personally agree with the latter. I think that viruses are similar to ourselves in that we are both systems of physical/chemical interactions. What differs is the complexity of these interactions, and thus I find it difficult, if not impossible, to draw a clear distinction between living and not. It is like trying to define in absolute term what “big” is and what “small” is, it just cannot be done. But in my opinion, the question of whether viruses are alive or not has absolutely no useful implication because the answer (if there exists one) does not affect the progress of this science nor its application. Perhaps, the debate serves to express people’s emotion towards viruses, which is highly subjective.

  • aFrog

    Of course, it would depend on the definition of living (i.e. the existence of what interactions are sufficient and necessary in a system for it to be called living), which is in itself problematic. For example, if one defines living as possessing the ability to produce progeny that shares similar characteristics, then wouldn’t a forest fire be considered as living, since it, too, can propagate itself? (i.e. spread the flame onto other trees)

  • aFrog

    Of course, it would depend on the definition of living (i.e. the existence of what interactions are sufficient and necessary in a system for it to be called living), which is in itself problematic. For example, if one defines living as possessing the ability to produce progeny that shares similar characteristics, then wouldn’t a forest fire be considered as living, since it, too, can propagate itself? (i.e. spread the flame onto other trees)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5Z2UCN4CZZTFB6KQ5B4AT74OTA Selketchina

    Hmm If we think about if a virus is alive then what does classify life in general?

    Is it something that can be alive (Reproducing)  without having to use other lifeforms or Organic materials as Fuel for reproduction?

    If so then a large part of lifeforms are not alive too (for example us people).

    So what is left? The ability to Reproduce. Viruses clearly have this so (in my world) they are Alive.

  • Spiritgift

    yes…they are alive because they express a “desire” to seek infections routes and demonstrate self-defense  mechanisms to increase for selection .I believe a virus is literally a “zombie” of a living creature.Thus,its RNA is a piece of the “living dead” until it “finds” an acceptable piece of genetic material that jumpstarts its ability to enter the domain of what we would call life.A RNA  strand is life in chemical hibernation on a molecular level.It is only a different KIND of life.It needs a “straight” piece of genetic material to hijack because it does not possess that attribute on its own.In a sense,a RNA virus is similar to the gay lifestyle.It cannot multiply on its own without “straight” genetic material to “reproduce” itself.Its virulent takeover and ultimate explosion of interior clones in some influenza types shows its extreme approach to replication on an exponential level.So viruses are “alive” if you have this definition of life mentioned above.Since it cannot singularly replicate itself,then THAT definition of life means a virus is merely a partial recipe awaiting more ingredients to legitimize its standing as ALIVE.Thank you for the great site…Greg …spiritgift@rocketmail.com

  • Val_grlhouse

    my question is if viruses werent alive, thn why do we take vaccines to KILL them??

  • Ebola_warfare

    “The single biggest threat to man´s continued dominance on the planet is: the vIruS”

  • Llydslater

    As it says in the movie Outbreak in 1995.  We have to kill this thing.

  • Josiah

    Two things
    A) The biggest threat to man`s dominance/existence is themselves
    B) No one will take you seriously if you spell Virus like this: vIrUs

  • Alo97

    lol its funny whatching nerds fight over the internet

  • Joe Deadhorse

    Viruses are nanobots. Molecular-sized machines.

  • Pushpamanshrestha

    Of course virus is alive, but physiologically and metabolically out side the cell, it becomes not alive but thermodynamically it is alive. See more

  • Nepal
  • Cjeromson

    a mitochondrion*

  • i love science

    i whant real answers from real scientists

  • Lman

    Could you please just leave this site alone ? This is a great website with valuable information and you just look very unintelligent commenting on here, if you’re bored comment YouTube videos

  • Amana Xxo

    thats not cool

  • Anti-vandalism

    *dyslexia. Although, in your case, I think you’re just slow.

  • Jmimins

    We don’t take vaccines to kill them; the vaccine is an inert form of the virus which is attacked by the immune system. This means that when the pathogen invades in its active form, a secondary immune response is stimulated so it is stopped much more quickly.

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  • Drh

    A virus is a subcellular organism with a parasitic intracellular life cycle. It requires the replication machinery of a cell to replicate. It has no metabolic activity outside the host cell. Rather, it has the potential for life, in the same way that a disk containing the code for a computer program is only a potential program until it is put into the host computer. Viruses are not (as is often proposed) the simplest form of life, since their life cycle involves not only their own metabolism, but also that of the cell whose replicative machinery they use.

  • http://www.altogenlabs.com MIke

    Viruses are simply and literally “micro-machines,” by all accounts,
    whose true purposes, while obviously of tremendous medical and
    ecological significance, are partly hidden.  The first enigma is that
    their “life” is at best DERIVATIVE.  Life’s powers are thus temporally
    reserved and logistically segregated in non-living, mechanical systems
    of great complexity and ingenuity.  Why?  If they are necessary (and
    Leibniz, quoting Aristotle, said nature, i.e., God, “does nothing in
    vain”), why are they here at all, when most or all of their
    microbiological functions are duplicated by bacteria, fungi, and amoebae
    anyway.  Bacteria, fungi, and amoebae, of course, are very much alive. 

  • http://www.prlog.org/11289974-phone-number-lookup-verizon-phone-number-reverse-lookup-to-get-information-you-need-quickly.html phone number lookup

    You seem to know your stuff very well

  • Rebeca

    This question is my favorite topic when it comes to debating Science. I had engaged in this discussion with my 16 year old many times and always play the devils advocate. Are virus alive?
    Sure, by definition of life, or at least one version of the definition from this blog a year ago: ” the ability to metabolize, maintain homeostasis, grow, respond
    to stimuli, reproduce, and evolve. ”
    Viruses can perform most of these functions when inside the cells. They certainly evolve, and rapidly (example HIV). You can claim that through the parasitic hijacking of the cell machinery, viruses also metabolize and maintain the needed homeostasis for optimal “viral replication,” for example adenoviruses do remarkable things with the machinery.  They respond to stimuli, such as the shutting down of the cell antiviral responses and apoptosis (ie. HPV).
    The terms of reproduction and growth can be analogous to viral replication, and as my 10 year old pointed out shyly during our debate, “…mules are alive yet they don’t reproduce.”
    It really comes down to the definition of life, but as a Virologist I can tell you that the viral “machinery” is so exquisitely specific and clever for performing the necessary functions, that I can not think of viruses as anything but alive.
     

  • Moni

    Also, in most cases, viruses are unable to survive and reproduce on their own.  This is one of the requirements for life, which viruses do not meet.  Viruses depend on the host cell for their “life cycle.”

  • Raw937

    The problem is your thinking of a virus as the  “infectious particle,” which is just like saying pollen is a tree and because it can’t reproduce on its own its not alive. Or that egg and sperm is a person which they are clearly not.

    The virus – is the infected cell which is alive. The virion – the particle is just like a sperm or a pollen grain. 

    plasmodium needs a host, tape worms need a host. Life is hard to define for parasites like viruses…

  • Tomomi404

    As long as the DNA or RNA has the ability to replicate by cells, that means they are alive….. I think.

  • CArl the scientist11

    Im the smartest person in the world and they are alive.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WLSQN3HLPA2V6U2NEH3JJE23BM me

    Best theory I’ve heard yet and it would seem EXTREMELY plausible with the evidence available.  I would venture to say that perhaps the government already knows that viruses are responsible for many autoimmune disorders like those you mentioned and is using that knowledge to further a money making cause at the detriment of our health.  Think about it.  Lots of money to be made off sick people.  Doctors won’t get high salaries if they aren’t bombarded with sick kids.  The more chronic, the better, hence autoimmune disorders.  Vaccination schedule is out of control.  Where my generation recieved only so many shots, now it is a monstrous number. My child will remain unvaxed.  No poison.