what is alive?

John R. Campbell campbejr at phu989.mms.sbphrd.com
Fri Sep 20 10:47:54 EST 1996

On 17 Sep 1996 15:56:34 +0100, Johnjoe McFadden <j.mcfadden at surrey.ac.uk> wrote:
>>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)

I like this little line;  It can be applied to so many things...

"Windows-95 is a piece of bad news that has been shrink-wrapped".

(Unfortunately, many people open the containment structure thus wreaking
havoc on their PCs.)

Same can be said of the AOL CDs.

>Mario.Vaneechoutte now writes:
>>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).

>Many people do not see increasing complexity as 'good'. See eg. SJ Gould's
>many excellent books including his latest (which I haven't yet read) which
>argues strongly against the 'complexity=good' viewpoint. Anyway, viruses are
>surely genetically-selfish elements that are in there for their own 'good',
>not that of the host. Any role they may have had in evolution (and I am not
>aware of any strong case where this has been demonstrated) is purel;y

Have you considered the "culling" function of a virus (or, for that matter,
any other microorganism)?

Viruses provide another layer of environmental stress.  If we didn't have
viruses we would have to invent them ;-)

Who knows?  Maybe the cell nucleus started out as a virus that became a
"good little symbiote".						:-)

Being a systems geek w/ a curious streak w/r/t biology (and the Genome
effort in particular), I've considered that a cell is just a bunch of
organisms that decided to live together as a bunch of cooperating
symbiotes.  (It's a pity I've had so little access to reality.  I suspect
that all my sources are years out of date.)

 John R. Campbell, Speaker to Machines, Resident Heckler          soup at jtan.com
  "As a SysAdmin, yes, I CAN read your e-mail, but I DON'T get that bored!"-me
   Disclaimer:	I'm just a consultant at the bottom of the food chain, so,
		if you're thinking I speak for anyone but myself, you must
		have more lawyers than sense.

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