"Are Viruses Alive?" Article Writeup

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Villarreal, Luis P. “Are Viruses Alive?” Scientific American, December 2004.
In the article “Are Viruses Alive?,” Luis P. Villarreal discusses the effects of viruses on life, while presenting different angles as to whether or not they are alive themselves and arguing about the impact viruses have had on evolution. Through a deeper understanding of viruses and their functions, the scientific community may come to fully appreciate viruses, whether they are living or non-living in themselves, as significant evolutionary components.

The article first addresses the issue of whether or not to consider viruses as living. Although viruses used to be thought of as being biological chemicals due to the fact that they consist of nucleic acids enclosed in a protein coat, they are now residing in the gray area between living and non-living. This is because although they seemed to be inert chemicals, viruses, after entering a host cell, are very active. The protein coat is shed, the virus uncovers its genes, and the host cell’s replication machinery is put to work reproducing the virus’s DNA or RNA and manufacturing more viral protein. In short, viruses are not living in that they are incapable of reproducing on their own, but they have the capacity to replicate through a host cell, allowing them to be capable of carrying out to some degree all of life’s essential functions. This has caused scientists to conclude that modern molecular biology is based upon a foundation of knowledge gained through viruses.

Because of virus’s parasitic characteristics, or the fact that they depend on host cells to “come alive,” viruses may be viewed as having a certain potential for life, which can be destroyed, but they cannot reach a more independent state of being. Viruses are not by themselves alive; however, they verge on life.

Secondly in the article, the impact of viruses on evolution is discussed. The author asserts that thinking about the status of viruses as non-living or...
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