T4 bacteriophage virus
Left: an image (Ѻ) of a T4 virus, which reproduces via injection of its DNA, through floating insect stinger-like mechanism, into host bacteria cells, which is destroyed in the process, an organism about which Charles Sherrington in 1937, stated we "hesitate whether or not to call it ‘living’." [3] Right: news coverage of recent 2013 study, led by Andrew Camilli, which finds that bacteriophages have types of host-stolen adaptive immune systems, about which he says "lends credence to the controversial idea that viruses are living creatures." [4]
In classifications, virus, from the Latin contagium “contagious” + vivum “that which is alive”, is organism or molecular agent, ten times smaller than a bacteria cell, which carries out reproduction via host cell carrier RNA (or DNA) injection.

In debates about “life”, the virus is often found at center stage, in that being many times smaller than a cell it is often defined purely as a molecule (see: virus molecule), crystal, and or a non-living thing as compared to a living thing, because it seemingly has a reproductive cycle and possible Darwinian conceptualized struggle to survive.

In 1918, R.W. Glaser, as cited by Alfred Lotka (1925) in his “Regarding Definitions”, stated the following: [7]

“We are justified at present in not classifying viruses either with plants or animals.”

In 1935, American bio-chemist (powered chnops+ system chemist) Wendell Stanley isolated the tobacco mosaic virus, in needlelike crystal form, estimated its molecular weight, and showed that when rubbed on the tobacco plant leaves it produced the tobacco mosaic disease (first described by Adolf Mayer in 1886). [6] Stanley’s work appeared in Science that year and soon made the front page of New York Times, for its sensational aspect that it was the missing link between the living and nonliving. [1] In 1937, Barclay Newman commented on the state of the situation as follows: [2]

“It has astonished the scientific world that a single molecule can be the causative organism of a disease. How can a crystal be made up of living molecules?”

Indeed, here we are confronted with an absurdity—and "absurdities", as history has shown, often tend toward or lead to revolution of intellectual thought. That inert crystals have "life" or "mind" imbibed molecules inside of them is something that that doesn't make sense or one that leads to a panbioism philosophy. Stanley's findings, in short, showed that a virus was a "giant chemical molecule". [1] With its apparent ability to move about, invade, infect, and reproduce, etc., these "life-like" qualities immediately led into questions about the nature of what defines "life".

In 1938, English physiologist and life theory debunker (see: defunct theory of life) par excellence Charles Sherrington, in his Man on His Nature University of Edinburgh Gifford Lectures, was the first to quickly rip into this is a virus alive issue: [5]

“Perhaps the most striking feature of [life defined as a self-balanced energy system] is that it acts as though it ‘desired’ to maintain itself. But we do not say of the spinning of a heavy top which resists being upset that it ‘desires’ to go on spinning. The very constitution of the living system may compel it to increase; thus a self-fermenting protein system, granted its conditions, must increase. The behavior of a living body is an example of this, and we call it ‘living’. The behavior of the atom is an example of this and we do not call it ‘living’. The behavior of those newly discovered so-called ‘viruses’ is an example of this and there is hesitation whether or not to call it ‘living’.”

Poliovirus formula

In 1991, Akhteruzzaman Molla, Aniko Paul, and Eckard Wimmer, in their “Cell-free, de novo Synthesis of Poliovirus”, calculated the following empirical formula for poliovirus: [8]


In 2002, Molla, and associates, synthesized poliovirus in a test tube, which created somewhat of a media frenzy; Wimmer (2006) retrospectively summarizes this event as follows:

“In July 2002, newspapers across the globe reported that scientists had created a virus in a test tube. This unexpected news struck a raw nerve among lay people and scientists alike. The work was condemned as dangerous and irresponsible, scorned as a stunt and perceived as a challenge to divine power. It was also hailed as a milestone in biology. What really happened? The empirical formula of poliovirus (Molla et al, 1991) is C332,652H492,388N98,245O131,196P7,501S2,340. Because poliovirus is a quasi-species (Wimmer et al, 1993), the number of atoms in viral particles represents an average from a large population of different viruses. There might be little practical use in describing poliovirus by its empirical formula, but it persuasively portrays the virus as a chemical. Placing the atoms in order, a particle of high symmetry emerges (Hogle et al, 1985), with all the properties required for its proliferation and survival in nature. These properties are encoded in the viral genome, a single-stranded RNA molecule of about 7,500 nucleotides (Kitamura et al, 1981).”
— Akhteruzzaman Molla (2002), “Cell-free, de novo Synthesis of Poliovirus” [8]


1. James, Laylin K. (1993). Nobel Laureates 1901-1992 (pg. 302). Chemical Heritage Foundation.
2. Creager, Angela N.H. (2002). The Life of a Virus: Tobacco Mosaic Virus as an Experimental Model, 1930-1965 (§:Crystals at the “Threshold of Life”, pgs. 47-78). University of Chicago Press.
3. Enterobacteria phage T4 – Wikipedia.
4. Gallagher, Siobhan. (2013). “New Study Shows Viruses Can Have Immune Systems: a Pirate Phage Commandeers the Immune System of Bacteria” (Ѻ), TuftsNow, Dec 07.
5. Sherrington, Charles. (1938). Man on His Nature (desires, pgs. 75, 260). Cambridge University Press, 1950.
6. Wendell Meredith Stanley – Wikipedia.
7. (a) Glaser, R.W. (1918). “The polyhedral virus of insects with a theoretical consideration of filterable viruses generally”, Science, 48:301-02.
(b) Lotka, Alfred J. (1925). Elements of Physical Biology (republished (Ѻ) as: Elements of Mathematical Biology, which includes: corrections from Lotka’s notes and a completed list of his publications) (pdf) (Ѻ) (txt) (pgs. 6). Dover, 1956.
8. (a) Molla, Akhteruzzaman, Paul, Aniko V., and Wimmer, Eckard (1991). “Cell-free, de novo Synthesis of Poliovirus” (Ѻ), Science, 254(5038):1647-51, Dec 13.
(b) Wimmer, Eckard. (2006). “The Test-tube Synthesis of a Chemical called Poliovirus: the Simple Synthesis of a Virus has Far-Reaching Societal Implications” (Ѻ), EMBO Reports, 7:S3-S9, Jul.
9. Wimmer, Eckard. (2006). “The Test-tube Synthesis of a Chemical called Poliovirus: the Simple Synthesis of a Virus has Far-Reaching Societal Implications” (Ѻ), EMBO Reports, 7:S3-S9, Jul.

External links
Virus – Wikipedia.

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