Introduction to Viruses

Viruses are as simple as they come, they are merely entities that consist of a core of nucleic acid surrounded by a protein coat. However, these seemingly “robotic” forms have been responsible for plaguing mankind for many centuries – from the smallpox virus that have been found in the mummies of Egypt, to the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused over 2.9 million deaths to date. In this article, we shall explore what exactly is a virus and why it is hard to treat.

What are Viruses?

In a nutshell, viruses are entities that have a nucleic acid stored inside a protective coat. These are vastly different from any other living organisms because of their physiological processes. However, viruses cannot technically be called a living organism, nor a non-living entity.

Are Viruses Actually “Alive”?

Just like other living organisms, viruses have nucleic acids at their core. Moreover, they also exhibit complex processes seen in living organisms such as glycolysis. It can also make copies of itself once it is inside its host. In other words, a virus does tick-mark most of these factors which are deemed paramount for life.

What Makes Viruses “Dead”?

Certain paradoxical aspects make scientists unable to classify them with other living organisms. For instance:


  • They are are non-cellular
  • They need an external host to reproduce
  • They can be crystalized and still remain viable


The research surrounding the evolution of viruses might point towards the answer, that these entities actually formed in conjugation with the Darwinian principles of evolution.  Many viral proteomes, such as those extracted from the Egyptian mummies, still contain lineages of ancient evolutionary cellular structures.  The existence of these lineages suggests that cells and viruses had similar evolutionary processes and could be called “cousins” in some manner – just like how the Neanderthals were closely related to Homo sapiens.

Modern Implications

This fact may sound like pseudoscience and quite an abstract claim, but research indicates that viruses might actually be responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. A review from the magazine ‘Cell’ in 2016, pointed out that between 40-80 percent of the human genetic code consists of some sort of archaic viral invasion.  This might be due to viruses reproducing by simple genetic transfer and are prone to more mutations owing to their short replicative cycles.


A common misconception exists that viruses can be treated with antibiotics. But this is entirely false as antibiotics are primarily targeted at bacteria. Moreover, the mechanisms they employ to stop infections are simply ineffective against viruses as they have a completely different physiology. For instance, most antibiotics work by lysing (breaking down) the bacterial cell wall. Since, viruses do not have a cell wall, they become ineffective.


In conclusion, perhaps mankind needs to answer how viruses formed the basis of our evolutionary process alongside cells. This would help future scientific research in understanding viral genetic processes, which could eventually provide more effective cures for diseases such as AIDS, Ebola and also COVID.  Read more about viruses or explore other fascinating topics – from genetically modified organisms to photosynthesis and nitrogen cycle only at BYJU’S. Alternatively, subscribe to BYJU’S YouTube channel to discover exciting videos about science!