Are Viruses Living Organisms?

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Viruses have continuously challenged our perception of what ‘living’ means. The scientific community have constantly debated whether viruses are classified as living or non-living organisms. Viruses are very important complexes of biochemical that influence all types of living organisms including bacteria, yeast, plants and animal cells. Viruses are blobs of RNA or DNA surrounded by a coat of protein. They do not consist of organelles and therefore cannot make copies of their selves. Living organisms also are assumed to compel a degree of biochemical self-sustainable, bearing the metabolic activities that outcomes the molecules and energy organism required to preserve. Recently, scientists have discovered a new type of virus, called a mimivirus. These viruses do contain the tools for making a copy of its DNA. This suggests that certain types of viruses may actually be living (Melanie, Howell. A., Undergraduate, biomedical sciences). When a virus hijacks a cell, it loses its protein coat and seize the cell’s nucleic acid by using its viral gene, changing host cells protein-based instructions to generate identical viruses. In 2014 an outbreak of a deadly virus in Africa was reported, this virus was called Ebola. Ebola was an epidemic and was continuously growing and doubling for months. This virus had killed thousands and thousands of people all throughout West Africa. Although it was controlled, there are likelihoods that it may occur again. This just shows how unpredictable the effect of viruses can be.

Viruses cannot duplicate on their own however, they have the ability to replicate in living cells. In doing so, viruses can also impact the behaviour of their host severely. They are not capable of independent replication and therefore do not contain a large amount of metabolic processes required. Viruses greatly depend on their host in order to do their replication process. Thus raising the question are they really alive? When being targeted by a virus, people generally seek medical attention such as antibiotics to help fight the virus, however, antibiotics are not effective in dealing with viruses due to the differences between a virus and living bacteria. Recently, scientists have found it very difficult to design vaccines and drugs against viruses due to the constant changes being made by the virion. In order for living things to grow, nutrients and energy are used in order to expand and further enhance their complexity, however, viruses on the other hand are created in fully-formed states where they cannot enhance their complexity or grow. Once the virion comes in contact with the host cell, it becomes activated and as a result uses the energy from the host cell to fulfil its requirements to duplicate more viruses. In order to be considered as ‘living’, viruses must adapt to their environment, viruses have the potential to adapt to their surrounds through the lytic and lysogenic phases. These cycles are vital in the process of hijacking their host cell and only target bacteriophages. The lytic phase consists of the virus injecting its DNA into the bacteria and destroying the host DNA resulting it into falling apart, thus leaving only the DNA from the virus in the bacteria. The ribosomes in the bacteria create viral proteins where the phage DNA codes for more viruses and resulting the viruses into bursting out of the bacterial cell. However, the Lysogenic cycle is where the viral DNA mixes its DNA into the chromosome of the host DNA and will result the cell into dividing a great number of times. However, the viral DNA will carry itself from generation to generation which will result in all of the bacterial cells consisting of little pieces of viral DNA.

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There are many debates on whether Viruses should be included or excluded from tree of life based on past centuries of studies and it isn’t getting any simpler. (Hegde. N. 2009) suggested that compared to other organisms Viruses are clearly a much more simple structure compared to other complex living creatures such as plants and animals. Not all scientists agree on what a ‘living thing’ really is, which is why viruses are extremely debated. However, some characteristics of livings things include reproduction, energy use, growth and adapting to the environment. Viruses do not fulfil all of these requirements thus making it very difficult to classify viruses as living or non-living. DNA and RNA both experience natural selection which is the main reason why viruses exist. Viruses are known to be as obligate intracellular parasites, which means in order to make more viruses they would have to get physically inside of a cell, this results in the reprogramming of the cell. The virus goes through two phases, this includes the virus particle which is not alive and the infected cell which is clearly alive. This may give the virus the potential to be living as it is replicating inside of a living cell.

Although viruses may have the potential to replicate inside living cells, based on my research I believe viruses are considered as non-living organisms. However, each scientist has their own opinion on whether viruses play a role in “tree of life”.

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Are Viruses Living Organisms? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/are-viruses-living-organisms/
“Are Viruses Living Organisms?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/are-viruses-living-organisms/
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Are Viruses Living Organisms? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2024 Jun 12]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/are-viruses-living-organisms/
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