Are Viruses Living?

Let’s first define life. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, life is “an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.”

Viruses are not living things. Viruses are complicated assemblies of molecules, including proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates, but on their own they can do nothing until they enter a living cell. Without cells, viruses would not be able to multiply. Therefore, viruses are not living things.

When a virus encounters a cell, a series of chemical reactions occur that lead to the production of new viruses. These steps are completely passive, that is, they are predefined by the nature of the molecules that comprise the virus particle. Viruses don’t actually ‘do’ anything. Often scientists and non-scientists alike ascribe actions to viruses such as employing, displaying, destroying, evading, exploiting, and so on. These terms are incorrect because viruses are passive, completely at the mercy of their environment.

Update: See a more recent post for my thoughts on this question.

437 thoughts on “Are Viruses Living?”

  1. Hey, ur saying that acording to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, But here Merriam-Webster Dictionary, also define virus is Living thing./……………………….
    First Reserch plz

  2. This article helped me find one piece of evidence for my essay. I think this is how much ebery one should write. Not boring.

  3. 🐴🐑🐯



  5. Angus Landeryou

    I thinj viruses arent alive or dead. They are simoly biological machines, dependant in a “user” (cells) to do anything in life.
    .that said they are the most useless things I could think of. Even Jellyfish contribute to the world in their own weird jelly-ish way

  6. Now you are getting to the root. Think about this as well, if viruses were never alive to begin with, why do we get vaccines. The medical field teaches us the vaccines are made from dead or weak (but alive) viruses. Do you smell some bullcrap in there yet?

  7. So, you’re saying that viruses utilize their own metabolism to evade counteractions actively, right?

  8. Not a doctor or student, but have a questioning mind. Suppose on a new planet we encountered a cellular form like a virus, should it be killed or should it be considered a life form for that planet. To me a virus is alive, it moves from cell to cell, it reproduces and changes to protect itself. The stimuli is whatever we use to try to kill it, the virus changes so that the agent doesn’t work any longer or it kills the host.

  9. Just like they need DNA to replicate, so do we.

    We make more cells by copying DNA
    We make babies with gametes, gametes are cells

  10. Michael Kleider

    We are all passive if you want to define passive as “at the mercy of the environment”. This is not so much a critique of your answer which is consistent with popular orthodoxy in biology. It’s a critique of the biological paradigm that sees organism as distinct from environment. No organism would be functional without it’s environment. I believe that in order to make a false distinction between “organism” and “environment”, biologists had to gerimander the definition of organism in arbitrary ways. I think the example of a virus not counting as an organism–something that so obviously is a living thing–cries out for this pole rigging to be noticed. Those who think that there is a hard distinction between life and non life that can be summarized by 7 transcendental characteristics want to believe in hard categorize so badly that they have become very gullible.

  11. This may be so, that they’re not considered life because they don’t meet all 7 characteristics, but the ones that are present in my opinion carry more weight. Like the simple fact that viruses adapt and experience evolution in a way to try and stay fit and “ahead of the curve”, that’s what trees and humans do. and bacteria and protists which are life. So why aren’t they considered similar to those? Rocks are non-living, but they also don’t adapt in any way to increase their existence on this planet. I just don’t agree that viruses aren’t living.

  12. Chris Thompson

    Hey Cody and All,

    I stumbled upon this site by accident. I am not a “Virus Researcher” or a Scientist, but I am kinda tired and decided to read this article.

    ‘First off, I can’t believe how lucky Ashleyirons’ boyfriend is.

    Second, Cody, was a very interesting quote you stated in your comment;

    “A non-living thing is one that lacks or has stopped displaying the characteristics of life. Thus, they lack or no longer displaying the capability for growth, reproduction, respiration, metabolism, and movement. They also are not capable of responding to stimuli or evolve and adapt to their environment.They also do not require energy to continue existing. Examples of non-living things are rock, water, and sun.”

    Then I began thinking…”Wow……………………………..What a trip!” (light bulb over my head)

    I’ll make this long story short:

    This may sound “out there”, or you all may have heard/thought of it before… here goes…

    OK, Cody, in reference to the portion of your comment, “A non-living thing is one that lacks or has STOPPED DISPLAYING (my emphasis) displaying the characteristics of life.”

    Ok, everybody, don’t laugh. Here comes…Now, could the virus’ that we know of have “evolved” or “mutated” waaaay past us humans to the point where they DON’T NEED to carry around their happy environment and the nagging spouse and crying kids and hunt for food all day long? They (virus’) don’t play mind games or stand you up on dates. I don’t think they worry about it. I don’t think they worry at all. They just are, I guess.

    Doesn’t sound like a bad “non-life” to me.

    Anyway, yeah, I was tripping on “What ‘life’ must be like as a virus.

    This stuff is interesting! Thanks a lot.

  13. Pls can u help me answer this question.A virus can be regarded as a living organism because it.A.causes disease in plants and animals B.exist in variety of shapes C.reproduces In living cells microscopic

  14. As far as I know, a few evidences were found that Mitochondria were at one point in the past a fully living prokaryotic organism, so yea. Maybe viruses have that kind of a probability.

  15. So shouldn’t antivirals just make your body stop reacting to viruses and allow it to passively coexist, instead of just trying to combat it? Viruses themselves are completely harmless.

  16. so this is the reason why viruses are not classified and also why their diagrams look like some kind of machines

  17. Pingback: Jainism – Redefining ‘violence.’ | What you didn't learn in religion class

  18. The debate on whether or not they’re alive or partially alive or dead but using the force is really one for scholarly purposes only. They’re grown, they mutate, they have an evolutionary history or evolution that has been studied and documented. They require H20 to do the same things that all living organisms do. Without other forms of life they could not exist and that is one very important cardinal rule about life, it cannot exist alone. Virus, passed through the same genetic evolutionary steps that we did to get here and each has evolved to fit in a particular environmental niche/function/time. We’re both testimonials to the incredible diversity this planet offers. Viral DNA streamlined for survival. Our DNA, if you remember Gary Larson and his petrie dish cartoons, seems to still be searching for its limitations

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