Research suggests that viruses are pervasive companions of all kinds of life forms. All the studies conducted on living organisms highlighted that each organism had a virus of its own (Koonin, Senkevich, & Dolja, 2006). Viruses are known to be the smallest known infective agents. They lack the attributes that a cell has and therefore, viruses are termed as a non-living entity. In addition to this, the aspect that sets viruses apart from other microorganisms is that the viruses have one type of nucleic acid. It has also been noticed that viruses either have DNA or RNA, but both do not exist together (McCall, Stock, & Achey, 2009). Regarding size, the smallest virus is similar to a 70s bacterial ribosome.
When looking into the structural properties of viruses, it can be seen that viruses lack an independent metabolism. Viruses are grown through embryonated eggs in laboratories, while, poliovirus is produced in the ground through nonliving human cells. Viruses differ from other microorganisms and are, therefore, referred to as virus particles and not cells (McCall et al., 2009). This difference, then, draws a boundary between the viruses and other microorganisms. The border lies between living entities and nonliving entities.
The discovery of viruses led scientists to debate over the existence of viruses as either living or non-living entities (Moreira & López-García, 2009). There have been contradictory claims when it comes to distinguishing viruses as living or non-living organisms (Villarreal, 2004). Some researchers suggest that viruses are alive to an extent while others claim the opposite (Kampourakis, 2013). Viruses cannot be termed as living things as they cannot reproduce nor do they have an active metabolism level. They are complicated aggregation of molecules that contain diverse substances like proteins, carbohydrates, and nucleic acid, etc. Other than that they are not capable of performing any function on their own till they enter the body of a living cell. Microorganisms are capable of increasing in number due to having cells. On the other hand, without the presence of cells, viruses cannot multiply. The inability to increase the numbers puts the viruses into a nonliving category. The first and foremost quality of a living organism to reproduce and multiply, seeing how viruses are not capable of this act shows that they are not living organisms. People often consider viruses to be living organisms due to the virus’s habit of producing more of its kind. However, it should be noted that when the virus attaches itself to a living organism, few chemical reactions take place that leads the host-virus to produce new infections. Without the living organism, a virus is not capable of doing anything on its own.
Aside from all the discussion done above, in my opinion, viruses cannot be labeled as living organisms. As I stated in the earlier examples that for any organism to be termed as a living thing, it has to have specific features such as consuming energy, digesting food and reproducing. The reason why a virus cannot be labeled as a living organism is that it does not adhere to the above mentioned attributes that other microorganisms do. The only way that a virus function is by attaching itself to a living organism, after which the virus injects a snippet of DNA in the cell of the living organism. The DNA strand takes over the cell’s mechanism to construct copies of the virus which in the process destroys the cells. The death of the cell leads towards the virus spreading to other cells and infecting them in the same way. The virus’s parasitic attribute has led some researchers to believe that it is a living entity. However, most of the claim goes in the opposite direction and makes virus’s nonliving organisms.
Kampourakis, K. (2013). The Philosophy of Biology. Springer.
Koonin, E. V., Senkevich, T. G., & Dolja, V. V. (2006). The ancient Virus World and evolution of cells. Biology Direct, 1(1), 29.
McCall, D., Stock, D., & Achey, P. (2009). 11th Hour: Introduction to Microbiology. John Wiley & Sons.
Moreira, D., & López-García, P. (2009). Ten reasons to exclude viruses from the tree of life. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 7(4), 306.
Villarreal, L. (2004). Are Viruses Alive? Scientific American, 291(6), 100-105. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26060805
Author: Academic Master