Case Study: Are Viruses Living? Dear Students, You came to me asking a question that has puzzled mankind ever since we have discovered them. Are viruses alive? Are the chicken pox, flu, HIV, and H1N1 viruses living? They are among the smallest microbes, but they can make people fell ill. So are they living or not? In my opinion, viruses are not alive. All living things have the same basic characteristics. According to Document B, organisms maintain homeostasis. Also, living creatures are made up of one or more cells, the building blocks of life. In addition, all animals and plants and bacteria grow and develop. Moreover, they all have to have genetic information (DNA or RNA). Lastly, organisms require energy and nutrients, have to reproduce, and they respond to their environment. For example, the Melospiza melodia, or the song sparrow, is a living creature. Why is this so? Well it has all of the requirements; like it has DNA and is made up of cells. Likewise, it also maintains homeostasis. Does it respond to the environment? Well if it is raining then it would most likely find shelter. Also does it eat and have offspring? Yes it does. The Melospiza melodia has just proved that it is a living creature. Proving that a virus is a living creature is another story. This is so because a virus straddles the line between living and nonliving. Yes it is true that a virus has genetic information. It is also true that they “know” how to copy themselves. Yet, they do not grow and develop, or respond to the environment. Think of viruses resembling robots programmed to do one thing, make copies of them. That is why viruses do not grow or develop or respond to the environment. They do not require food or energy or nutrients. They do not need to maintain homeostasis because they do not have a homeostasis to maintain. They reproduce by taking over other cells and by using their energy, they make copies of themselves, all programmed to do the same thing. So in a nutshell, viruses are not alive. They may have some of the characteristics of an organism, but not all. I hope that I gave you the answer you were looking for. Sincerely, Emily Bunce, Microbiologist
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