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Q & A: viral semantics

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
HOW are viruses created? ARE viruses even living? HOW may a virus "freeze" itself, and what will make it "unfreeze"? ARE viruses the simplest form of "things" with genes?
- Anonymous
A:
You're asking physicists, not biologists, so we can only give a bit of the answer. I'll start with the easy part.

"Are viruses even living?" That's purely a matter of what you choose to mean by the word 'living'. Viruses reproduce, evolve etc. However, they cannot do so except inside of some more complete organism, borrowing some of its machinery. It's not much of a life.

"ARE viruses the simplest form of "things" with genes?" They're the smallest semi-independent genetic reproducers. However, many bacteria have seperate genetic components called 'plasmids' whose reproduction is not tied directly to the bacterial reproduction. These plasmids can be fairly easily exchanged between different bacteria, even between not very similar bacteria. They're a major source of evolving and spreading bacterial resistance to antibiotics. So you might say that they're 'things' smaller than viruses but with genes.

"HOW are viruses created?" I'm not sure whether you're asking how different lines of viruses are created (I don't know the answer) or how each individual virus is created reproductively. The answers to the second question are complicated, depending on whether you're talking about DNA viruses, retroviruses, etc. A virologist would be able to give a detailed, accurate answer. Also, a virologist might know enough to understand the question about 'freezing'.

I hope this at least gets you started, although it's far from complete.

Mike W.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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