Characteristics of Viruses as Non-living Organisms

Nature comprises of millions of organisms, both living and nonliving. Different characteristics such as the ability to reproduce, perform metabolic functions, grow, and the like have been used to distinguish between the two categories. In the course of their researches however, scientists were brought to the attention that among all other components of the ecosystem, viruses seemed to ill fit on either side. Some people came up with the conclusion that viruses are living organisms, others argued that they were boxes of biochemical elements while the other group decided that they were poisonous elements due to their reputation in causing diseases. Viruses have proved complex to classify as they exhibit characteristics of both living and nonliving organisms to some extent, depending on their existing conditions. This paper will look into the characteristics of viruses that that incline them to be more nonliving than they are living.

To begin with, viruses cannot reproduce on their own like other living creatures. Instead, they replicate within their host cells. DNA viruses nestle in the cell nucleus while RNA viruses settle and develop within the cytoplasm of the host’s cells. Different varieties of viruses undergo different types of replication—but six basic stages are common among all of them.  These stages are attachment, penetration, uncoating, replication, assembly, and virion release, in that order, and they only happen when the virus is in the safe harbor of its tropic host. A virus introduces a gene to the host cell altering its function and causing it to produce more virion. Viruses take control of the host’s cell completely and by using the gene they carry, control its function. Otherwise, viruses cannot survive long outside of their host’s body (Belk, Maier & Feinstein, 2019).

Then, viruses are acellular organisms in that they are not made up of cells hence do not have cell organelles. Cell organelles are the components that make up a cell and make it functional (Burnet, 2010). This feature distinguishes virions from all declared living organisms backing the argument that they are nonliving. Viruses, due to this shortcoming cannot perform metabolism on their own. Again, they fully depend on their hosts for this function. Once a virus invades a cell, it dramatically alters the metabolism of the cell to cater for its metabolic needs. Unlike animals, viruses do not need energy intake to survive nor do they possess the ability to regulate their temperatures.

According to evolutionary scientists, viruses are just external factors that affect a host, just as would the weather or climate change. They also argue that viruses could be genetic compositions of a host that had shed and reattaching again. When a virus invades its host, it takes over the cell’s activities customizing the cell to perform the function that it has instilled with its gene.


In this paper, there is a thin line drawn between whether or not viruses are living or nonliving. However, following the stringent and evasive definitions of life, viruses cancel out of most of them. As we have seen, viruses cannot perform the basic functions of living organisms like metabolism, reproduction, movement, and growth. They are also acellular, unlike every other living organism. Viruses tend to drift around until they find the right cell to invade and infect, so they can start the replication process all over again. Had there been a third way to classify organisms other than living and nonliving, maybe there’d be a firm stand as to where virus lay, but for the time being, we have one stand; viruses cannot be classified as living organisms.


Belk, C., Maier, V. B., & Feinstein, J. (2019). BIOLOGY Science for Life.

Burnet, F. M. (2010). Virus as Organism. Evolutionary and Ecological Aspects of some Human Virus Diseases. Virus as Organism. Evolutionary and Ecological Aspects of some Human Virus Diseases.

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