Are viruses alive or dead and is it time to find out?

This is a popular but mostly philosophical question, to which no one really has an answer, but our money is on alive.

This is based on our impression that the biological clocks of viruses are constantly ticking away, prompting, or motivating the viruses to track down (as they lurk on surfaces and float on currents of air) a suitable partner with which to produce offspring.

Never mind that this coupling is not consensual, that it is invasive, and that it damages or even kills the partner in the process as lytic viruses, for example, cause thousands of offspring to be released per ‘breeding event’. An analogy with female praying mantises and black widow spiders that kill and consume their partners in ritual acts of courtship comes to mind.

Our point here is that this single-minded drive on the part of viruses to find a suitable cell or ‘mate’ in order to reproduce, even if the act of reproduction is a lethal or near-lethal event, does not seem to be entirely dissimilar from the mating behaviour of the aforementioned arthropods, which makes them, to our minds, alive. Or alive-ish, at least.

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