Reclassifying Viruses as Living

colin favret crf at UIUC.EDU
Thu Mar 16 08:55:15 CST 2006

> Walter Boeger wrote:
> Finally, the concept of life, in my opinion, must be associated to
> evolution ..if it evolves, it is alive!

Are human cultures alive? How about ideas, or languages, or theology?

For every definition of "life" brought up thus far, each designed to
include or exclude viruses, we can come up with counter-examples that
try it. Rich Pyle brought up prions. Also, if viruses are alive, then
what do we call transposons: aren't they just viruses that don't leave
the host genome?

This debate of whether or not viruses are living is purely semantic,
born of the human mind's need for compartmentalization. Rather than try
to come up with an absolute definition of life that satisfies every
known example, "life" should be understood in context. Is Pluto a
planet? Are photons particles? Is Loxodonta cyclotis (the African
forest elephant) a separate species? As with so many things, the
correct answer is "it depends."

Cheerio, colin, serial compartmentalizer

Colin Favret, Insect Collection Manager
Illinois Natural History Survey
1816 S Oak Street
Champaign IL 61820, U.S.A.
crf at

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