? asked in Science & MathematicsBiology · 10 years ago

Do you think viruses are alive?

I'm going to come right out front and tell you, I already have a biased opinion. But that doesn't mean I can't objectively look at the arguments. It seems like most people I talk to can't. So here are the major arguments I have heard, and what I can objectively say about them using only logic and their own definitions/assumptions. Please tell me, INTELLIGENTLY and LOGICALLY what you think. And sorry in advance for random caps. It's hard to be emphatic in text.

1) Viruses simply don't fit into the scientific definition of life.

That is because there is no unequivocal scientific definition of life right now. There are only similar (not even identical) lists of qualities and the instruction that living things should have MOST of those qualities.

2) Viruses cannot reproduce, and do not have metabolism, outside of a host cell.

The most common argument; and it's true. But I don't think it has anything to do with viruses not being alive. Rickettsia and Chlamydia have exactly the same limitation, and they are considered alive. Not to mention the fact that every organism has limitations on reproduction; animals can't do it without male and female zygotes (except for a very few that can perform parthenogenesis). Some plants are dependent upon wind and random passersby.

3) Viruses do not respond to outside stimuli/adapt to their environment.

Believe it or not, I've heard this one. From biology majors. Yes, viruses do respond to outside stimuli; they react to cellular organisms by attaching and initiating the infection cycle. Yes, they adapt to their environment. They inherit genetic mutations and evolve by natural selection i.e. developing strains resistant to drugs, etc.

4) Viruses do not grow.

This one is correct. Viruses are assembled, and then remain the same size for the rest of their "lives".

5) Viruses do not respire, consume, or excrete wastes.

This is also true. Viruses do none of these things.

6) Viruses are not composed of cells.

I can't possibly refute that viruses are acellular. But why is that the basic unit of life? Because everything living you've seen so far is cellular?

7) Viruses have genetic material.

Yeah...again, this can't be factually refuted, but as a matter of definition, why does this automatically make them living? Because everything you've seen so far with DNA and RNA has been living? I think it's worth noting that viruses don't all have DNA; some only have RNA. And viruses don't just HAVE genetic material; they are almost nothing BUT genetic material. Is each and every DNA strand in your body alive??

8) Viruses reproduce by creating more individual organisms similar or identical to themselves.

So does fire. And several other chemicals in common, non-living chemical processes. It's worth noting that viruses are genetic in their reproduction, but it's still a matter of chemicals.

OK, that's it for the major arguments. But to lighten the mood, because I know some of you will get way too serious and intense, here are some of the...less intelligently formed pieces of logic I've heard. Most of these are direct, word for word quotes.

1) "Sensitivity - they are not aware of the surrounding expect [sic] for their survival"

First of all, how much of a reason is it if it already comes with an exception? Second of all, how can non-living things have survival instinct?

2) "A viruse [sic] is not a living thing because it cannot stand alone if you place one on the surface of an object (e.g. a table) it will perish or be incorporated into a bacterium for survival."

....Neither would I. I probably wouldn't be eaten by a bacterium, but I sure wouldn't survive on a table, by myself. Also, once again, how can a non-living thing "perish" or "survive"?

3) "...viruses are not considered living things..they can not survive by themselves..they rely on the host mechanisms for reproduction.."

Viruses are not considered living things because viruses are not considered living things?? No, I'm not taking it out of context, those ellipses are his. This is the full quote. And AGAIN with non-living things surviving? And surviving by itself? I'd like to see you survive by yourself. Maybe we can put you on a table.

4) "Viruse [sic] in science are considered non-living simply because they do not reproduce,..."

Again, I didn't cut this quote off. Those are his ellipses. In his defense, he might have meant "without a host cell". But it's still funny.

5) "Viruses are nonliving because they are much simpler and more primitive than other organisms."

Yeah? Bacteria are much more primitive than I am. And simpler? Simpler!? How does Simple=not alive??


Ginae: Thank you for your opinion, and for being honest lol.

Amy: Thank you for having the only valid point so far, and for presenting it so well.

Starbuckz: Thank you for showing people what not to do, by being unnecessarily defensive, irrational, and insulting to someone who merely asked a question. For those who post later, please do not shout, please do not claim that viruses do not have metabolism (b/c they do, when inside a host), please do not make points I have already refuted without a defense, and please do not call my question "drabble" or an essay, as it is neither.

Update 2:

Energy dreamer, you have lived up to your name by giving me a lot to think about, which, more than "being convinced" was my ultimate goal. Yes, I have analyzed it quite a bit, but thinking to oneself and reading essays can only accomplish so much. Thank you for your contribution.

6 Answers

  • 10 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Wow, I suspect it will be difficult to convince you one way or the other. You have apparently analyzed this a lot already. I suspect that it does not matter whether or not humans consider it to be alive. They appear to be very small inert particles that are stuffed with a data bank that enables them to patiently wait for the exact moment to use their stored information to their advantage. They are extremely varied even though they are very small and cannot apparently reproduce by themselves. They have enough stored information to cause many changes in truly living cells and can be very picky about the cell type. They may not be alive but they are not stupid. People ... well they define "alive" but are often far more ignorant of other potential life forms. They may not be alive but are they actually dead? If they are dead, how can they make living forms die. Dead, alive, inert, these are issues for Aristotle, Plato and Socrates.

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  • 3 years ago


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  • 10 years ago


    To be alive they have to be able to reproduce on their own

    and have metabolism

    They don't!

    And do you really think someone on yahoo answers is going to read that drabble of an essay?

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  • 10 years ago

    well first thing, for an older answer: i want to see a human reproducing by himself and i will be sure he is alive. humans cannot reproduce by himself. but still they are alive. and viruses grow evolve and move by themself. they are something between living and chemical substance. they are something else, unapreciable by our standards of life and no life.

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  • Ginae
    Lv 4
    10 years ago

    I have no patience for such long questions, but yes. I do think that they are alive in their own way.

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  • 10 years ago

    I say they are not alive just because they cannot be grown invitro by themselves...

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