Are Viruses Living?

Craig Marshall craigm at
Wed Apr 26 00:15:42 EST 1995

That I should be described as Ingeneous! The reference I was after is a
news-and-views article in Science (Amato, I. (1992) "Capturing Chemical
Evolution in a Jar" Science 255:800) where the work of Julius Rebek
concerning a self-replicating molecule is described. The molecule is
J-shaped and catalyses the reaction between a imide ester and "an
adenine-containing amine pair" to form a new molecule of the original
molecule. A variation of the reaction conditions can support "mutant"
molecules with different rates and efficiencies of replication.

The main point that I wanted to make is that there is a difference in
what we call life among a mouse, a bacterium, a bacterial spore and a
self-replicating chemical, although they all may fit the criteria in
some sense.

As an aside, multicellular organisms form a kind of spores too. The
brine shrimp _Artemia_ forms a cyst which is a collection of about
4,000 cells with no detectable metabolic activity, but which is capable
of producing a larval shrimp within 24h of the addition of water.  

Craig Marshall    Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago
                  PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

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