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Viruses - Are They Alive?

PeacefulChaos
Posts: 2,610
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10/3/2012 10:03:00 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
I've been hearing about this topic more and more over the years and have decided to state my position in this controversial debate. I could have made a debate on this, but sadly I don't have the time to keep up with it; consequently, I find it more convenient to make a thread about it, despite the fact that this forum is not that active. I realize the majority of the scientific community recognizes the virus as a non-living organism; however, I have always been one to go against the norm, and as such recognize viruses as basic living things.

The main argument against viruses being alive is the simple fact that they do not have certain characteristics of "life," which can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this topic, I'll just assume that life is defined by the following traits:

1. Composed of cells

2. Respond to their environment

3. Capable of reproduction

4. Capable of adaptation (i.e. natural selection)

5. Maintaining homeostasis

6. Consuming/using energy

7. Contain levels of organization (e.g. tissue, organ, organ system, etc.)

I realize that this is not exactly the correct way to define life and crudely defined, it should serve its purpose in this discussion. Right off the bat, however, we notice that viruses defy the first "rule" - they are not composed of cells. They also cannot reproduce, grow, or react on their own, yet this does not necessarily mean they are not alive. Let's cover the first problem.

It is only to our knowledge that viruses are not composed of cells. It is possible we do not contain microscopes with enough power to view the "cells" that make up viruses. I realize that cells cannot be that small, due to the volume and surface area ratio, but it is possible that an alternate, highly simplistic version of the cell exists with viruses, considering the simplicity of the viruses themselves. After all, viruses are essentially genetic material with a protein coat, yet this should not fool us into thinking that they are not alive. Simple = / = Not Alive.

Concerning the topic of reproduction ... they only half fulfill this role. Although not capable of reproducing on their own, viruses certainly can invade a host cell and reproduce from there, showing that they do have some reactions with their environment. As a result, it is clear that viruses can react to their environment in some way, but cannot grow and reproduce on their own.

As for the other characteristics, I would say that they fulfill those roles relatively well. They certainly do adapt (a reason why we have trouble with coming up for vaccines for viruses), maintain homeostasis, and do use energy (at least, they do in a cell). It should now be clear that viruses are on the border of being alive and not alive, which leads into a philosophical discussion, which is not exactly my area of expertise; nevertheless, I do have some thoughts supporting the idea of the virus existing.

If an organism does not exhibit every characteristic of life, does this mean they are not alive? Certainly not! Take a human as an example. We fulfill every role, but let us say that there is a human in a coma. Right off the bat, that human is not capable of reacting to his/her environment, yet the human is still alive. Let's add another factor in. The human is also incapable of reproducing (castration?). That is yet another characteristic off the list, yet it should be obvious the human is alive. Let's add another variable, and say that the human is in a very unstable condition, where his body is being attacked by a virus/disease. Or perhaps his red blood cells were placed in a hypertonic solution, causing them to shrivel up and die. Either way, it is clear that his body is no longer capable of responding/reacting to his/her environment, cannot reproduce, and does not have homeostasis. Despite all these factors, the human is still obviously alive. So why can't the same apply to a virus? Is it because of it's simplistic structure? The fact that it's too tiny we can't see it?

Whatever the case may be, I would like to hear your thoughts as well on this matter. I'm always open to new ideas, so let's hear them.
Lordknukle
Posts: 12,788
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10/3/2012 10:21:21 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
Life is a gradient. Some things are somewhere in between.
"Easy is the descent to Avernus, for the door to the Underworld lies upon both day and night. But to retrace your steps and return to the breezes above- that's the task, that's the toil."
royalpaladin
Posts: 22,357
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10/4/2012 6:34:44 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/3/2012 10:03:00 PM, PeacefulChaos wrote:
I've been hearing about this topic more and more over the years and have decided to state my position in this controversial debate. I could have made a debate on this, but sadly I don't have the time to keep up with it; consequently, I find it more convenient to make a thread about it, despite the fact that this forum is not that active. I realize the majority of the scientific community recognizes the virus as a non-living organism; however, I have always been one to go against the norm, and as such recognize viruses as basic living things.

The main argument against viruses being alive is the simple fact that they do not have certain characteristics of "life," which can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this topic, I'll just assume that life is defined by the following traits:

1. Composed of cells

2. Respond to their environment

3. Capable of reproduction

4. Capable of adaptation (i.e. natural selection)

5. Maintaining homeostasis

6. Consuming/using energy

7. Contain levels of organization (e.g. tissue, organ, organ system, etc.)

I realize that this is not exactly the correct way to define life and crudely defined, it should serve its purpose in this discussion. Right off the bat, however, we notice that viruses defy the first "rule" - they are not composed of cells. They also cannot reproduce, grow, or react on their own, yet this does not necessarily mean they are not alive. Let's cover the first problem.

It is only to our knowledge that viruses are not composed of cells. It is possible we do not contain microscopes with enough power to view the "cells" that make up viruses. I realize that cells cannot be that small, due to the volume and surface area ratio, but it is possible that an alternate, highly simplistic version of the cell exists with viruses, considering the simplicity of the viruses themselves. After all, viruses are essentially genetic material with a protein coat, yet this should not fool us into thinking that they are not alive. Simple = / = Not Alive.

Some of our electron microscopes can see atoms, so we have enough magnification power to view objects that are smaller than viruses. There is no way that viruses are composed of cells; they are enveloped by a simple protein coat that does not mimic the cell at all.
Concerning the topic of reproduction ... they only half fulfill this role. Although not capable of reproducing on their own, viruses certainly can invade a host cell and reproduce from there, showing that they do have some reactions with their environment. As a result, it is clear that viruses can react to their environment in some way, but cannot grow and reproduce on their own.

Pointing out that they can fulfill one function does not refute the fact that they cannot fulfill one of the key functions.

The reason that viruses are in a gray area is that they fulfill some, but not most of the functions.
As for the other characteristics, I would say that they fulfill those roles relatively well. They certainly do adapt (a reason why we have trouble with coming up for vaccines for viruses), maintain homeostasis, and do use energy (at least, they do in a cell). It should now be clear that viruses are on the border of being alive and not alive, which leads into a philosophical discussion, which is not exactly my area of expertise; nevertheless, I do have some thoughts supporting the idea of the virus existing.

If an organism does not exhibit every characteristic of life, does this mean they are not alive? Certainly not! Take a human as an example. We fulfill every role, but let us say that there is a human in a coma. Right off the bat, that human is not capable of reacting to his/her environment, yet the human is still alive.
The human is capable of reacting in a subconscious manner to his or her environment; conscious actions are not required for life.

Moreover, when we are discussing what qualifies as "living", we look to the characteristics of the species in general and not the specific organism. Humans in general respond to the environment, and in the situation in which you discover a specific person who does not, all you have done is provided an exception to the rule.
Let's add another factor in. The human is also incapable of reproducing (castration?). That is yet another characteristic off the list, yet it should be obvious the human is alive.
See above. Science is about discussing general traits, and not specific traits.
Let's add another variable, and say that the human is in a very unstable condition, where his body is being attacked by a virus/disease. Or perhaps his red blood cells were placed in a hypertonic solution, causing them to shrivel up and die. Either way, it is clear that his body is no longer capable of responding/reacting to his/her environment, cannot reproduce, and does not have homeostasis.
Humans who cannot subconsciously respond to the environment are dead.
Despite all these factors, the human is still obviously alive. So why can't the same apply to a virus? Is it because of it's simplistic structure? The fact that it's too tiny we can't see it?

Whatever the case may be, I would like to hear your thoughts as well on this matter. I'm always open to new ideas, so let's hear them.
PeacefulChaos
Posts: 2,610
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10/4/2012 4:15:54 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/4/2012 6:34:44 AM, royalpaladin wrote:
At 10/3/2012 10:03:00 PM, PeacefulChaos wrote:
I've been hearing about this topic more and more over the years and have decided to state my position in this controversial debate. I could have made a debate on this, but sadly I don't have the time to keep up with it; consequently, I find it more convenient to make a thread about it, despite the fact that this forum is not that active. I realize the majority of the scientific community recognizes the virus as a non-living organism; however, I have always been one to go against the norm, and as such recognize viruses as basic living things.

The main argument against viruses being alive is the simple fact that they do not have certain characteristics of "life," which can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this topic, I'll just assume that life is defined by the following traits:

1. Composed of cells

2. Respond to their environment

3. Capable of reproduction

4. Capable of adaptation (i.e. natural selection)

5. Maintaining homeostasis

6. Consuming/using energy

7. Contain levels of organization (e.g. tissue, organ, organ system, etc.)

I realize that this is not exactly the correct way to define life and crudely defined, it should serve its purpose in this discussion. Right off the bat, however, we notice that viruses defy the first "rule" - they are not composed of cells. They also cannot reproduce, grow, or react on their own, yet this does not necessarily mean they are not alive. Let's cover the first problem.

It is only to our knowledge that viruses are not composed of cells. It is possible we do not contain microscopes with enough power to view the "cells" that make up viruses. I realize that cells cannot be that small, due to the volume and surface area ratio, but it is possible that an alternate, highly simplistic version of the cell exists with viruses, considering the simplicity of the viruses themselves. After all, viruses are essentially genetic material with a protein coat, yet this should not fool us into thinking that they are not alive. Simple = / = Not Alive.

Some of our electron microscopes can see atoms, so we have enough magnification power to view objects that are smaller than viruses. There is no way that viruses are composed of cells; they are enveloped by a simple protein coat that does not mimic the cell at all.

I was simply coming up with possible ideas of the virus. I realize it's not likely that viruses are composed of cells ... but it's simply an idea to consider, seeing as how viruses perform many of life's functions; nevertheless, my point is rather useless, seeing as how there is no evidence to back it up.

Furthermore, is there a source showing we can see atoms? I'd be interested in looking at that. Either way, just because we can see things much smaller than the cells I came up with doesn't mean they don't exist. After all, scientists used to believe that some eukaryotic cells have no mitochondria. When they believed this, scientists already had high powered microscopes that could see things smaller than the mitochondria, yet it took several years to notice that the cells had them, simply because they looked different than the ones they were originally used to.

Concerning the topic of reproduction ... they only half fulfill this role. Although not capable of reproducing on their own, viruses certainly can invade a host cell and reproduce from there, showing that they do have some reactions with their environment. As a result, it is clear that viruses can react to their environment in some way, but cannot grow and reproduce on their own.

Pointing out that they can fulfill one function does not refute the fact that they cannot fulfill one of the key functions.

The reason that viruses are in a gray area is that they fulfill some, but not most of the functions.

I'm not sure what you mean by that ... I was simply observing that viruses cannot reproduce on their own. If anything, that shows they cannot fulfill one function.

Yes, I realize that's why viruses are in the gray area, which leads to what "life" really is ...

As for the other characteristics, I would say that they fulfill those roles relatively well. They certainly do adapt (a reason why we have trouble with coming up for vaccines for viruses), maintain homeostasis, and do use energy (at least, they do in a cell). It should now be clear that viruses are on the border of being alive and not alive, which leads into a philosophical discussion, which is not exactly my area of expertise; nevertheless, I do have some thoughts supporting the idea of the virus existing.

If an organism does not exhibit every characteristic of life, does this mean they are not alive? Certainly not! Take a human as an example. We fulfill every role, but let us say that there is a human in a coma. Right off the bat, that human is not capable of reacting to his/her environment, yet the human is still alive.
The human is capable of reacting in a subconscious manner to his or her environment; conscious actions are not required for life.

Moreover, when we are discussing what qualifies as "living", we look to the characteristics of the species in general and not the specific organism. Humans in general respond to the environment, and in the situation in which you discover a specific person who does not, all you have done is provided an exception to the rule.

It is true that humans do act subconsciously (e.g. light into the eyes causes pupils to narrow), and I overlooked that fact.

Well, can viruses be an exception as well?

Let's add another factor in. The human is also incapable of reproducing (castration?). That is yet another characteristic off the list, yet it should be obvious the human is alive.
See above. Science is about discussing general traits, and not specific traits.

Science is about discussing both, not to mention that every living thing should be capable of reproducing. Despite this fact, if there was someone not capable of reproducing, are they not still considered to be alive? This is what I'm trying to point out with viruses. They may not fulfill every single definition of life, but that does not necessarily mean they are not alive.

Let's add another variable, and say that the human is in a very unstable condition, where his body is being attacked by a virus/disease. Or perhaps his red blood cells were placed in a hypertonic solution, causing them to shrivel up and die. Either way, it is clear that his body is no longer capable of responding/reacting to his/her environment, cannot reproduce, and does not have homeostasis.
Humans who cannot subconsciously respond to the environment are dead.

We've moved on from subconscious and are discussing homeostasis ... so I'm not sure what you were trying to prove with that statement.

Despite all these factors, the human is still obviously alive. So why can't the same apply to a virus? Is it because of it's simplistic structure? The fact that it's too tiny we can't see it?

Whatever the case may be, I would like to hear your thoughts as well on this matter. I'm always open to new ideas, so let's hear them.
FREEDO
Posts: 21,057
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10/4/2012 5:19:53 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/4/2012 6:27:33 AM, PeacefulChaos wrote:
At 10/4/2012 4:22:06 AM, FREEDO wrote:
Nothing is alive.

I'd like to meet this "nothing" that is alive.

Holy Jesus. You actually understood me.
*runs away*
GRAND POOBAH OF DDO

fnord
baggins
Posts: 855
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10/7/2012 3:06:31 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/3/2012 10:03:00 PM, PeacefulChaos wrote:
I've been hearing about this topic more and more over the years and have decided to state my position in this controversial debate. I could have made a debate on this, but sadly I don't have the time to keep up with it; consequently, I find it more convenient to make a thread about it, despite the fact that this forum is not that active. I realize the majority of the scientific community recognizes the virus as a non-living organism; however, I have always been one to go against the norm, and as such recognize viruses as basic living things.

The main argument against viruses being alive is the simple fact that they do not have certain characteristics of "life," which can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this topic, I'll just assume that life is defined by the following traits:

1. Composed of cells

2. Respond to their environment

3. Capable of reproduction

4. Capable of adaptation (i.e. natural selection)

5. Maintaining homeostasis

6. Consuming/using energy

7. Contain levels of organization (e.g. tissue, organ, organ system, etc.)

I realize that this is not exactly the correct way to define life and crudely defined, it should serve its purpose in this discussion. Right off the bat, however, we notice that viruses defy the first "rule" - they are not composed of cells. They also cannot reproduce, grow, or react on their own, yet this does not necessarily mean they are not alive. Let's cover the first problem.

It is only to our knowledge that viruses are not composed of cells. It is possible we do not contain microscopes with enough power to view the "cells" that make up viruses. I realize that cells cannot be that small, due to the volume and surface area ratio, but it is possible that an alternate, highly simplistic version of the cell exists with viruses, considering the simplicity of the viruses themselves. After all, viruses are essentially genetic material with a protein coat, yet this should not fool us into thinking that they are not alive. Simple = / = Not Alive.

Concerning the topic of reproduction ... they only half fulfill this role. Although not capable of reproducing on their own, viruses certainly can invade a host cell and reproduce from there, showing that they do have some reactions with their environment. As a result, it is clear that viruses can react to their environment in some way, but cannot grow and reproduce on their own.

As for the other characteristics, I would say that they fulfill those roles relatively well. They certainly do adapt (a reason why we have trouble with coming up for vaccines for viruses), maintain homeostasis, and do use energy (at least, they do in a cell). It should now be clear that viruses are on the border of being alive and not alive, which leads into a philosophical discussion, which is not exactly my area of expertise; nevertheless, I do have some thoughts supporting the idea of the virus existing.

If an organism does not exhibit every characteristic of life, does this mean they are not alive? Certainly not! Take a human as an example. We fulfill every role, but let us say that there is a human in a coma. Right off the bat, that human is not capable of reacting to his/her environment, yet the human is still alive. Let's add another factor in. The human is also incapable of reproducing (castration?). That is yet another characteristic off the list, yet it should be obvious the human is alive. Let's add another variable, and say that the human is in a very unstable condition, where his body is being attacked by a virus/disease. Or perhaps his red blood cells were placed in a hypertonic solution, causing them to shrivel up and die. Either way, it is clear that his body is no longer capable of responding/reacting to his/her environment, cannot reproduce, and does not have homeostasis. Despite all these factors, the human is still obviously alive. So why can't the same apply to a virus? Is it because of it's simplistic structure? The fact that it's too tiny we can't see it?

Whatever the case may be, I would like to hear your thoughts as well on this matter. I'm always open to new ideas, so let's hear them.

Whether virus are alive or not depends on what definition we use. If we want to stick to facts, this is all we can agree on. Anything after this is a question of personal opinion.
The Holy Quran 29:19-20

See they not how Allah originates creation, then repeats it: truly that is easy for Allah.

Say: "Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things.
sadolite
Posts: 8,837
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10/8/2012 4:58:55 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/3/2012 10:03:00 PM, PeacefulChaos wrote:
I've been hearing about this topic more and more over the years and have decided to state my position in this controversial debate. I could have made a debate on this, but sadly I don't have the time to keep up with it; consequently, I find it more convenient to make a thread about it, despite the fact that this forum is not that active. I realize the majority of the scientific community recognizes the virus as a non-living organism; however, I have always been one to go against the norm, and as such recognize viruses as basic living things.

The main argument against viruses being alive is the simple fact that they do not have certain characteristics of "life," which can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of this topic, I'll just assume that life is defined by the following traits:

1. Composed of cells

2. Respond to their environment

3. Capable of reproduction

4. Capable of adaptation (i.e. natural selection)

5. Maintaining homeostasis

6. Consuming/using energy

7. Contain levels of organization (e.g. tissue, organ, organ system, etc.)

I realize that this is not exactly the correct way to define life and crudely defined, it should serve its purpose in this discussion. Right off the bat, however, we notice that viruses defy the first "rule" - they are not composed of cells. They also cannot reproduce, grow, or react on their own, yet this does not necessarily mean they are not alive. Let's cover the first problem.

It is only to our knowledge that viruses are not composed of cells. It is possible we do not contain microscopes with enough power to view the "cells" that make up viruses. I realize that cells cannot be that small, due to the volume and surface area ratio, but it is possible that an alternate, highly simplistic version of the cell exists with viruses, considering the simplicity of the viruses themselves. After all, viruses are essentially genetic material with a protein coat, yet this should not fool us into thinking that they are not alive. Simple = / = Not Alive.

Concerning the topic of reproduction ... they only half fulfill this role. Although not capable of reproducing on their own, viruses certainly can invade a host cell and reproduce from there, showing that they do have some reactions with their environment. As a result, it is clear that viruses can react to their environment in some way, but cannot grow and reproduce on their own.

As for the other characteristics, I would say that they fulfill those roles relatively well. They certainly do adapt (a reason why we have trouble with coming up for vaccines for viruses), maintain homeostasis, and do use energy (at least, they do in a cell). It should now be clear that viruses are on the border of being alive and not alive, which leads into a philosophical discussion, which is not exactly my area of expertise; nevertheless, I do have some thoughts supporting the idea of the virus existing.

If an organism does not exhibit every characteristic of life, does this mean they are not alive? Certainly not! Take a human as an example. We fulfill every role, but let us say that there is a human in a coma. Right off the bat, that human is not capable of reacting to his/her environment, yet the human is still alive. Let's add another factor in. The human is also incapable of reproducing (castration?). That is yet another characteristic off the list, yet it should be obvious the human is alive. Let's add another variable, and say that the human is in a very unstable condition, where his body is being attacked by a virus/disease. Or perhaps his red blood cells were placed in a hypertonic solution, causing them to shrivel up and die. Either way, it is clear that his body is no longer capable of responding/reacting to his/her environment, cannot reproduce, and does not have homeostasis. Despite all these factors, the human is still obviously alive. So why can't the same apply to a virus? Is it because of it's simplistic structure? The fact that it's too tiny we can't see it?

Whatever the case may be, I would like to hear your thoughts as well on this matter. I'm always open to new ideas, so let's hear them.

In order to determine what is alive you must first define what life is. We are still unclear as human beings as to what life is and how to define it. It is currently different for different forms of (should I say it) ......................Life?
It's not your views that divide us, it's what you think my views should be that divides us.

If you think I will give up my rights and forsake social etiquette to make you "FEEL" better you are sadly mistaken

If liberal democrats would just stop shooting people gun violence would drop by 90%
Thaddeus
Posts: 6,985
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10/9/2012 12:43:01 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
Not a particularly interesting topic due its heavy semantic nature. You can define life so viruses are or aren't part of the group. There are elements from either set of definitions that can be described as 'useful' in a scientific sense. There is no change in perspective either way or other significant ramifications. Its just putting stuff in boxes and leaving them there.

Then again that does seem to be a forte of biologists =P
Thaddeus
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10/9/2012 12:46:28 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/9/2012 12:43:01 PM, Thaddeus wrote:
Not a particularly interesting topic due its heavy semantic nature. You can define life so viruses are or aren't part of the group. There are elements from either set of definitions that can be described as 'useful' in a scientific sense. There is no change in perspective either way or other significant ramifications. Its just putting stuff in boxes and leaving them there.

Then again that does seem to be a forte of biologists =P

However, I must concede that I did find it interesting when back when I was 10 my old biology teacher demonstrated using the primary school definition of life, MRS NERG (Movement. Reproduction. Sensitivity. Nutrition. Excretion. Respiration. Growth) that fire was alive.