Are viruses alive?

The question of whether viruses are living or not always provokes lively discussion. On TWiV 59 we decided to take an informal poll of our listeners on this issue. Let’s open up the poll to readers of virology blog.

This survey had been online since November 2009 and had collected several thousand responses. SurveyMonkey decided to delete all of those, so we are starting over as of January 2013, using a different survey site.

As of November 2013, the second survey site decided to charge users and simply deleted our data without asking. I’m leaving this page up until I find another survey site, mainly because there are quite a few comments below that I don’t want to lose.

In January 2014 I added a new poll. Let’s see how this fares.

[yop_poll id=”1″]

226 thoughts on “Are viruses alive?”

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  5. My two cents:

    Viruses are alive, even if they sit in the cheap seats of living organisms.

    A more virulent strain of virus can supersede a less virulent strain in infecting a human making it subject to evolution.

    Good enough for me. And there are multiple examples of organisms that coexist with other living organisms. One such organism eventually became mitochondria and another chloroplasts.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

  6. Juana Fernanda Farinelli

    I think virus are parasite that don’t have own life because they can not sintetize the esential components that they need to keep up living.

    My contribution from Argentina.

  7. Andre Bechtold

    a lion imprisoned in a small cage cannot do anything. It cannot feed and cannot reproduce and cannot move. According to some virologist it would therefore not be alive. Nothing can be further from the truth!

  8. viruses are alive but we can’t tell without looking at them using microscope they contain DNA on their genome and also able to reproduce

  9. I thought virus were alive until I took a pop quiz in microbiology at week 1. I got it wrong and was so surprised. I understand they aren’t alive because they can’t replicate by themselves. I was really intrigued when we got the quizzes back and we had a discussion about how advanced viruses are. I think they’re pretty smart – make others take care of everything!

  10. How did life on Earth begin? At what stage of complexity or potential energy was a clump of chemicals “alive”? Where would viruses fit in that scenario?

  11. You could say that viruses are not really dead — they’re just resting.
    They are waiting, like seeds in a Norwegian seed vault.
    Perhaps the best word to describe their condition is dormant.

  12. Yo creo que los virus no están vivos porque no pueden replicarse por sí mismos, necesitan un huésped para llevar a cabo esta función, si dejas un virus sin huésped, éste no hace nada, ni si quiera se mueve

  13. prabir kumar thapa

    viruses are proteins and proteins are building blocks of life if they are good. They replicate if their host is alive and only if they hijack the replication mechanism of host cell. the viruses are just the mechanized proteins that are meant to protect one species from others.

  14. Miller Munjaru Sitati

    Viruses are alive because like any other organisms viruses multiply, and die.

  15. Mmbaya Godwin

    I suppose viruses are non living since they can’t replicate on there one they depend on the attacked cell,, where they release there genetic material to the cell and colonise the cell to produce more viruses.

  16. Viruses are living, though they don’t have cells but depend on host machinery for survival and soon they will die.

  17. Yes, to be considered alive an entity has to satisfy two conditions:
    1. The entity harnesses it’s energy to create new copies of itself to make its kind immortal
    2. The entity harnesses its energy to remain functional for as long as possible (ie stay alive as long as it can given its core components)

    The above qualities separate living from non-living entities. Non-living entities like rocks do not harness embodied energy to reproduce or to move away from or fight threats etc

  18. Denker Dunsmuir

    I am long time listener whose life focus is social sciences, broadly defined to include all that involves/impacts humans. Our complex world does not always accommodate blurred lines readily — a taxonomy space that viruses seem to fall into. No, viruses are not self-replicating like humans. But humans do rely on other organisms, also. And for nearly 2 decades at the start of their lives, they are not self-sufficient either.

    And, viruses like lawnmowers are not self-powering — a vote for viruses being non-living organisms.

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