what is alive?

Johnjoe McFadden j.mcfadden at surrey.ac.uk
Mon Sep 16 09:14:09 EST 1996

At 11:40 16/09/96 -0700,
>> Mario Vaneechoutte wrote:
>> > Strange, I would define prions as alive according to the broad
>> > definition of life (or living information) I favour: living information
is that information which is capable of making more material
>> > instantiations of itself by copying already existing instantiations of

An apposite description of a virus that I once heard is:

"A virus is a piece of bad news wrapped up in protein."
        (I cannot remember the source)

A similar description could be written for a prion.

Both viruses and prions are information that can replicate themselves if
injected into the right environment. But life is an awfull lot more that
replicating information. Computer viruses make copies of themselves but I
certainly cannot accept that they are alive -  although some AL (Artificial
Life) folk do ascribe to that view.

Johnjoe McFadden

Johnjoe McFadden, PhD
Molecular Microbiology Group
School of Biological Sceinces
University of Surrey,
Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, UK.

tel: 44-(0)1483 300800 extn.2671
fax: 44-(0)1483 300374

e-mail: j.mcfadden at surrey.ac.uk

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