Virus Life For Me
(3D reconstruction of rotavirus; via wikimedia)
Recently, I read an absolutely awful opinion piece on the definition of life that ran in a major paper. It made me sad, because I don’t want to live in a world where someone can be an editor at a huge science magazine, as the author was, and totally misunderstand why scientists–particularly virologists like myself–worry about what life is, and whether or not viruses qualify.
I don’t really want to argue with that piece, though–I’ve found it’s always better for the soul to write a good educational piece than a scathing argument. Not that I dislike scathing arguments, but…I’d rather spend my time on education.
The question of whether viruses are alive or not is something that strikes right at the roots of biology. It makes us wonder about what the meaning of “life” is to begin with, and without a strict definition for life, “biology” becomes rather meaningless. If it’s the study of life, but we don’t really have a strong idea of what life is, then what the heck are we studying?