Are Viruses Alive

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An article write up model on the article "Are Viruses Alive?," by Luis P. Villareal.

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Brodak 1

Villarreal, Luis P. ³Are Viruses Alive?´ Scientific American, December 2004. In the article ³Are Viruses Alive?,´ Luis P. Villarreal discusses the effects of viruses on life, while presenting different angles as to whether or not they are alive themselves and arguing about the impact viruses have had on evolution. Through a deeper understanding of viruses and their functions, the scientific community may come to fully appreciate viruses, whether they are living or non-living in themselves, as significant evolutionary components. The article first addresses the issue of whether or not to consider viruses as living. Although viruses used to be thought of as being biological chemicals due to the fact that they consist of nucleic acids enclosed in a protein coat, they are now residing in the gray area between living and non-living. This is because although they seemed to be inert chemicals, viruses, after entering a host cell, are very active. The protein coat is shed, the virus uncovers its genes, and the host cell¶s replication machinery is put to work reproducing the virus¶s DNA or RNA and manufacturing more viral protein. In short, viruses are not living in that they are incapable of reproducing on their own, but they have the capacity to replicate through a host cell, allowing them to be capable of carrying out to some degree all of life¶s essential functions. This has caused scientists to conclude that modern molecular biology is based upon a foundation of knowledge gained through viruses. Because of virus¶s parasitic characteristics, or the fact that they depend on host cells to ³come alive,´ viruses may be viewed as having a certain potential for life, which can be destroyed, but they cannot reach a more independent state of being. Viruses are not by themselves alive; however, they verge on life.

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Secondly in the article, the impact of viruses on evolution is discussed. The author asserts that thinking about the status of viruses as non-living or living is more than just a philosophical debate; it is an important issue regarding and influencing the mechanisms of evolution. Some evolutionary biologists believe that since viruses are not alive, they are unimportant when considering evolution; this view places viruses in a category of merely secondary influencers of evolution. However, genetic information is directly exchanged with living organisms within the web of life. Also, virus genomes can permanently colonize their hosts, leading researchers to conclude that the cell nucleus itself originates from viruses. Prokaryotic cells did not merely gradually adapt until they formed a nucleus and became eukaryotic cells. Instead, the nucleus could have come from a persistent, large DNA virus that, within prokaryotes, made a permanent home. In conclusion, although viruses may not be technically defined as alive, they provide a link and form the boundary between biochemistry and biology, and are an integral component within the study of life. The biological significance of this article is due in part to the fact that viruses are being considered as partway-living things. Even though they are only halfway living, per se, they are still an important part of the study of living things because of the unique way in which they ³live´ and continue to reproduce by taking advantage of host cells. The information in this article relates to biologists in that viruses provide an entirely different element of potential life, as they are a cause for reconsideration when it comes to defining and determining life and non-life forms. This relates to what the class has currently studied in that metabolism, a characteristic function in life forms, is unable to be carried out in viruses, which can be taken into consideration when attempting to classify them.

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The article ³Are Viruses Alive?´ provided many different viewpoints on viruses, while determining their functions in relation to their classification as living or non-living. Virus¶s impact on evolutionary study was also discussed, reaffirming the significance they hold in the living world. The information as presented was engaging and provided many interesting viewpoints in regards to the study of viruses and their impact on the respective studies of life and evolution. It would be highly recommended for biology students and those interested in scientific affairs and innovations, because through an understanding of ³partway-living´ things can one come to a fuller understanding and a deeper appreciation of the living world as a whole.

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