what is alive?

Mario Vaneechoutte Mario.Vaneechoutte at rug.ac.be
Tue Sep 17 10:30:13 EST 1996

Johnjoe McFadden wrote:
> 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 nice one.
However, 'bad' and 'good' always depend on the point of view you take.
For individual organisms, viruses surely are bad news. But, evolution
and evolution towards more complex organisms owes a lot to viruses.
Humans usually consider 'evolution towards more complex organisms' as
good (otherwise we wouldn't have been here).

> Both viruses and prions are information that can replicate themselves >if injected into the right environment. 

OK, but this definition applies to all life: e.g. as a human, just try
to replicate yourself outside the human society.

>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 

Maybe that is because of an anthropocentric view. It is difficult to get
rid of and to look at things from the point of view of information.
For an exercise, see: http://www.club.innet.be/~claeys/boi/boi.html.
Behavior of Information by Luc Claeys.

Mario Vaneechoutte
Laboratory Bacteriology & Virology
Blok A, De Pintelaan 185
University Hospital Ghent
Belgium 9000 Ghent
Tel: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59
E-mail: Mario.Vaneechoutte at rug.ac.be

More information about the Mol-evol mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net