Is A Virus A Living Thing?

By Antonia Čirjak on May 26 2020 in Science

Viruses are what is behind some of the most vicious and dangerous diseases known to man.
Viruses are what is behind some of the most vicious and dangerous diseases known to man.
  • Viruses are not living things because of several facts, most importantly because they can’t replicate themselves without a host cell, and because they do not need energy to survive.
  • All living things have a metabolism and consume energy to survive and continue living. But not viruses.
  • Viruses replicate by copying their genetic code into a cell of their host.

Viruses are what is behind some of the most vicious and dangerous diseases known to man. This includes diseases such as ebola, influenza, smallpox, and rabies. They have an incredibly high potential to kill, but if we were to classify them on whether they are alive, the answer would be no. Viruses are considered to be non-living, so that solves that question. However, it is a little more complicated than that.

Viruses Are Non-Living

It might seem strange that something as dangerous as a virus is considered a non-living thing. They can spread extremely quickly, and they can reproduce and infect other living things. All of these things would normally point to them being living creatures. This has been a subject of significant debate since the late 19th century; however, most experts agree that viruses are not living creatures.

The biggest reason why we consider them non-living things lies in the very definition of the word “alive.” We actually do not have a way to define life itself, but we do have a set of guidelines that help us determine what the word “alive” means. These guidelines can then be used to see whether something can be considered living or nonliving. If a thing is alive, it should have its own biological apparatus that allows it to replicate, it should be able to multiply through cellular division, and it should have a metabolism. Viruses fail on all of these accounts.

How Do Viruses Replicate

Let’s look into this further. In order for a virus to replicate itself, it must hijack the reproductive apparatus of its host, the cells of the host, to be more exact. This way, a virus can then copy its genetic code by using the cell and make it seal the new virus inside of a container known as the capsid. Viruses are not able to replicate themselves without a host.

Of course, this means that viruses are not able to self divide either. They can’t split their cells into two because they first need to assemble themselves by controlling the host cell. This cell then creates all of the components of the virus and pieces them together.

Does A Virus Need Energy?

The last reason why a virus is not considered a living thing is because it does not consume energy to be able to survive. It does not have a metabolism. A virus is not able to regulate its own temperature either, which is something all living things are able to do. Living things fulfill their energy needs by supplying themselves with energy through various metabolic processes. 

These processes supply the living organisms with adenosine triphosphate, which is the main source of energy for life itself. This energy is necessary to be able to survive. One the other hand, viruses don’t need anything to be able to survive; they can survive on nothing. They are able to drift around constantly for an indefinite amount of time until they find the right type of cell that will become their host. Once they do find it, they start to create copies of themselves. All of this is why viruses are not living things.

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