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Is a virus alive?

Ian A. York iayork at panix.com
Mon Feb 3 13:37:07 EST 1997

In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.970201140402.833F-100000 at dante>,
R. BAKER <rubaker at nmsu.edu> wrote:
>Is a virus a living organism or not????  It can reproduce but must rely 
>on the host cell and the host cell's metabolism?  What constitutes a 
>virus as alive or non-living?

Common as this question is, it has nothing to do with biology; it's merely
a semantic question.  (I'm willing to put "merely" in quotation marks, if
you're interested in semantics.)  It is most appropriately addresses to a
language newsgroup, not to a biology group.

he reason the question seems interesting is that the English language,
during its evolution, didn't have to deal with viruses.  Thus it has ended
up defining "living" in ways that don't take account of them.  The
question and any of the answers you can come up with tell you nothing
about life; they simply tell you the limitations of English.

The question as to whether a virus is alive is no more, and no less,
interesting than the question "Where does my fist go when I open my hand?"
And it has no more to do with biology.

      Ian York   (iayork at panix.com)  <http://www.panix.com/~iayork/>
      "-but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a
       very respectable Man." -Jane Austen, The History of England

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