The Instigator
jaredbrennan
Pro (for)
Losing
7 Points
The Contender
RyuuKyuzo
Con (against)
Winning
26 Points

Viruses are non living

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 6 votes the winner is...
RyuuKyuzo
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/14/2012 Category: Science
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 11,993 times Debate No: 27199
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (6)

 

jaredbrennan

Pro

Viruses are non living creatures because they do not have a cell membrane or any other components of other living cells. They cannot reproduce until they find a host and the host will do it for them. They cannot be killed rather held off or blocked. They also do not respond to stimuli, and they do not metabolize. They only form parasitic relationships with their hosts. Non living traits are shown. Viruses are non living.
RyuuKyuzo

Con

As much as I don't want to jump into another noob debate, I don't have much else to do until I jump up a few spots on the tournament waiting list and this is an interesting topic to me, so here I am.

This debate is really about how we ought to define life, and so by the end of this round I will have established a superior perspective on what life is and why viruses fall under such a category.

1. DNA

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is composed of phosphate, sugar, and purine/pyrimidine bases (Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine) [2]. On it's own, no one would think of a DNA strand as being "alive". It's little more than a tiny biologically constructed rock. Therefore, we must either contend that rocks are alive (at least in a rudimentary way), or that DNA is not. I will proceed under the assumption that rocks (therefore a lone strand of DNA) are not alive.
Where is life then? The only place left would be the structure surrounding the DNA. Let's now look at cells and virus shells.


2. Virus vs. Cell

A virus is composed of basically 2 things; a protein shell and genetic material [1]. There are many different kinds of virus, all with a unique shape and different amounts of peculiar mechanisms, but they all have this in common. The purpose of this shell it so protect the genetic material and help it get from place to place so it can reproduce, and the mechanisms attached to that shell are a simply machine used to get the DNA into the host cell.
A cell functions in much the same way. The difference is, the cells mechanisms are used to replicate itself internally, without the use of a "host". The only way this can be done is for cells to have porous membrane that allows the necessary building blocks to enter [3]. It should be noted that the cell exerts no effort in keeping itself "alive". Everything that happens to a cell happens merely due to the way atoms interact with one another.

So, what is a cell? It's a biologically constructed machine used to help the DNA it houses reproduce itself. -- But wait, what is a virus? Well, it's a biologically constructed machine used to help the DNA it houses reproduce itself.

3. Bells and Whistles

"OK", one might think, "But what about the membrane? Taking in and utilizing nutrients? Surely these things make cells alive and viruses not!" -- These qualifications are arbitrary and, frankly, cell-centric. Our definition of life needn't be limited by what we are composed of, and there is no objective necessity for these qualities to be included in our definition of life. The only fundamental difference between a cell and a virus is that a virus does its job without all the bells and whistles. That is to say, it sacrifices the ability to take in nutrients and reproduce internally, and in exchange it gains the ability to survive on its own ad infinitum (even in a vacuum for some).
Instead of looking at viruses as non-living things, it is instead more logically consistent to look at viruses as living things that merely forgo all the bells and whistles conventional cells have taken up. There's nothing more that a difference of ideology between viruses and cells. In order to remain logically consistent, we should alter our definition of "alive" to "something designed to reproduce itself".

Note: Before you say that surviving in a vacuum clearly shows that viruses aren't alive as living things couldn't possibly survive in a vacuum, consider that Water Bears have proved themselves in the vacuum of space [4]. Unless one contends that water bears aren't alive, survival in a vacuum cannot be used as the distinguishing factor between living and non-living organisms.

4. Dead Cells

"Well, what about dead cells?," one might ask. "If a living thing is defined as 'something designed to reproduce itself', then we must conclude that newly dead cells are alive, since they retain their structural integrity -- which is a contradiction of terms."

This question really is about what is the difference between life and death -- a topic deserving of its own debate. The short and sweet answer is that this is yet another trade off of cells. In exchange for its ability to reproduce without a "host", it gives up the ability to serve its purpose forever. The reason for this is that machines in use tend to atrophy, and once that atrophy has reached the point where the machine breaks down, it no longer meets the requirement for life. Just as one cannot say that a broken car gets people from place to place, so too can one not say that a broken cell is designed to reproduce itself. It was at one point, but at this point in time its structure no longer meets that requirement and therefore we can say that it has died.
A virus doesn't have these machines. the only machine it has is some sort of sheath and core used to inject the DNA into the cell [2]. Since it only uses this machine once, it doesn't have to worry about atrophy and therefore retains its function much, much longer than cell can. Once again, it trades the perks of life in exchange for longevity.

5. Syllogisms

For the more mathematically minded folks, I will break down the above arguments into a series of syllogisms.

A)
P1- DNA is alive
P2- Viruses contain DNA
C- Viruses are alive

-- Assuming these premises are rejected--

B)
P1- DNA is not alive
P2- Cells contain DNA
P3- Cells are alive
C- Something other than DNA defines life

C)
P1- DNA is not alive
P2- Cells are alive
P3- A cell is made up of only the cell itself and the DNA it houses
C- The "cell" part of a cell defines its "life-ness"

D)
P1- Cells are alive
P2- A cells purpose is to replicate its DNA
C- Life is defined by the pursuit of DNA replication

E)
P1- Viruses have a shell protecting DNA
P2- This shell's purpose is to ensure the replication of said DNA
C- Viruses are alive

The only room for contention about is in syllogism D. One could define life as something containing mitochondria, a porous membrane, cytoplasm etc, but these would just be arbitrary qualifications requiring justification from my opponent. There are many types of cells with radically different compositions. The only thing they all have absolutely in common is their purpose, which is a purpose shared by viruses. Therefore, we must conclude that viruses are alive, even if only in the most rudimentary of ways, if we are to have a logically consistent definition of life.


1. http://o.quizlet.com...
2. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov...
3. http://lifestylerejunevate.files.wordpress.com...
4. [video]
Debate Round No. 1
jaredbrennan

Pro

Viruses are not "living" organisms but capsules of genetic material. They require living hosts to multiply and invade cells
There is still no way a virus could survive on their own. Like the rock theory and the DNA you brought up. A rock cant live on its own either....Because a rock isn't alive. A virus cant live on its own... Because a virus cannot be alive.
RyuuKyuzo

Con

Hmm... I was hoping for a little more substance from my opponent, but no matter.

1. Circular Reasoning

My opponent argues that viruses are not living organisms because they are capsules of genetic material, the assumption being that capsules of genetic material are not living things, therefore viruses are not living things.

This is circular logic. You are defining what a virus is as "non-living" and then using that as justification for your argument.

Yes they require a host to reproduce, yes they are capsules with genetic material, but the same can be said about cells. The only difference is that cells are more complicated due to the fact they use themselves as the host. Other than that, they are basically capsules of genetic material.
Who are you to say how complicated a life-form must be before we can call it a life-form? It's completely arbitrary and therefore we have to re-work our understanding of what constitutes life.

2. Can't Survive On their Own

Pro states that a virus could not survive on its own. This statement is nonsense. As I stated in R1, viruses can survive even in a vacuum. Yes, they need a host to reproduce, but reproduction isn't a requirement for their species to live on since they are technically immortal. "Ah ha!" One might think "if they are functionally immortal, then they can't be called living! Life without death is like light without darkness, the only way to have one is to have the other and therefore if a virus cannot die then it cannot be called alive!"

Not so fast, several things you would consider "alive" are also functionally immortal. Trees, for example, have no known natural life-span. Trees have been known to continue truckin' along at well over 4000 years old, with one clonal tree living an estimated 80,000 - 1,000,000 years [1] (although that last one is debatable for a series of reason I won't get into here). This functional immortality isn't just a plant thing either. Consider the Turritopsis nutricula, or as it's more commonly known, the immortal jellyfish. The immortal jellyfish survives by reverting back to it's pre-pubescent stage whenever it is about to die of old age [2].
Okay, but that's just a jelly, right? What about more complex life-forms? Well, here's a short list of animals either confirmed to be immortal, or at least have a reasonable amount of data backing the idea that they are immortal [3]. This list includes animals such as lobsters, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, the rough-eye rockfish, etc. My point here is that life is far more robust and diverse than we have historically given it credit for and we, as a species, need to seriously re-consider what we define "life" as.

3. Rocks Cannot Live

Pro states that rocks cannot live on their own because rocks aren't alive. Hold on to that thought for a minute, because this whole "what is life" question is about to get a whole lot more complicated.

Let's look at Pprions. Prions are an infectious agent, much like viruses. They reproduce and even evolve via natural selection. The difference is that prions don't have a capsule or any DNA. Prions are merely mis-folded proteins that re-produce by connecting with other proteins and mis-folding them accordingly [4], and as stated earlier, they evolve [5]. Famous examples of prions are Mad Cow Disease and Variant CJD ( the human version of mad cow disease). So now we have something that is basically the structural equivalent of a rock both capable of reproduction and evolution. For all intents and purposes, prions are living things.

It's easy enough to brush aside viruses as being only about as alive as rocks are, but when the rocks start having sex and evolving, where does that leave your argument?

Note: I know that rocks are made of minerals, not proteins. Just keep in mind that we know for a fact that abiogenesis happened at some point, so we already know it's possible for rocks to somehow form into proteins and start doing "life things".

4. Biologists Are Re-Defining Life

This recent discoveries I've talked about here haven't gone unnoticed by biologists. There never was an unequivocal definition of life, but the definition biologists used is being re-examined to account for these findings. For example, biologyonline.org now explicitly includes viruses under their definition of a living organism [6].

Conclusion

Pro has basically dropped my entire R1 argument and instead simply re-stated his original position. Once again, it is pro's burden to justify that there is some sort of logical necessity to excluding parasitic lifeforms under our conception of life. Simply asserting that this is the case is not adequate, especially now that biologists themselves are starting to change the "official" definition of life in response to the information presented above.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
2. http://en.wikipedia.org...
3. http://voices.yahoo.com...
4. http://www.news-medical.net...
5. http://www.newscientist.com...
6. http://www.biology-online.org...

Debate Round No. 2
jaredbrennan

Pro

jaredbrennan forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by ToujoursMalena 3 years ago
ToujoursMalena
Why should this even be a debate? It has been scientifically proven that viruses are non-living.
Posted by MaestroEvans 4 years ago
MaestroEvans
"Grandmaster RyuuKyuzo" is appropriate.
Posted by jaredbrennan 4 years ago
jaredbrennan
@tylersch96
That is true but im not some science major im just as old as u
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
socialpinko
Seems interesting. The site needs more science debates not focused on creationism.
Posted by RoyLatham 4 years ago
RoyLatham
My understanding is that viruses are usually said to be a borderline case, hence debatable.
Posted by RyuuKyuzo 4 years ago
RyuuKyuzo
Well then, it's a good thing I'm stupid =D
Posted by tylersch96 4 years ago
tylersch96
this is a stupid debate because every smart person knows this is true
6 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Vote Placed by emospongebob527 4 years ago
emospongebob527
jaredbrennanRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: Counter utahjoker.
Vote Placed by utahjoker 4 years ago
utahjoker
jaredbrennanRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:07 
Reasons for voting decision: Holy crap RyuuKyuzo knows his stuff and that was the easiest vote I have ever made on debate.org.
Vote Placed by Torvald 4 years ago
Torvald
jaredbrennanRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:07 
Reasons for voting decision: FF, though even if Pro hadn't forfeited, Con earned all of these points.
Vote Placed by Man-is-good 4 years ago
Man-is-good
jaredbrennanRyuuKyuzoTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Quite obvious. Pro never rebutted Con's definition of life, or attempted to demonstrate the disparities between the machinery and function of a virus or a cell (whose comparison, let alone the conceptualizations of life, provided a major crux for Con's argument), and resorted to only circular reasoning (beginning with the disputed premise that it is "not-living") and unsubstantiated premises. Con easily dismantled much of Pro's objections and, by virtue of a more organized case, managed to show the simplicities in Pro's case, through examples involving prions that, as Con stated, possess little of a cell's machinery and yet, despite their origins as a distorted, misfolded protein structure, are capable of replication and reproduction.
Vote Placed by socialpinko 4 years ago
socialpinko
jaredbrennanRyuuKyuzoTied
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Obvious. Pro didn't as much forward an argument as state his position. Dropping all of Con's arguments also didn't help.
Vote Placed by airmax1227 4 years ago
airmax1227
jaredbrennanRyuuKyuzoTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Conduct for FF