Viruses are acellular, parasitic entities that are not classified within any kingdom. Viruses are not cells and cannot divide. They infect a host cell and use the host’s replication processes to produce identical progeny virus particles. Viruses infect organisms as diverse as bacteria, plants, and animals and exist in a netherworld between a living organism and a nonliving entity. Living things grow, metabolize, and reproduce. Viruses replicate, but to do so, they are entirely dependent on their host cells.
- 21.0: Prelude to Viruses
- Viruses are acellular, parasitic entities that are not classified within any kingdom. Unlike most living organisms, viruses are not cells and cannot divide. Instead, they infect a host cell and use the host’s replication processes to produce identical progeny virus particles. Viruses infect organisms as diverse as bacteria, plants, and animals. They exist in a netherworld between a living organism and a nonliving entity.
- 21.1: Viral Evolution, Morphology, and Classification
- Viruses are diverse entities. They vary in their structure, their replication methods, and in their target hosts. Nearly all forms of life—from bacteria and archaea to eukaryotes such as plants, animals, and fungi—have viruses that infect them. While most biological diversity can be understood through evolutionary history, such as how species have adapted to conditions and environments, much about virus origins and evolution remains unknown.
- 21.2: Virus Infections and Hosts
- Viruses can be seen as obligate, intracellular parasites. A virus must attach to a living cell, be taken inside, manufacture its proteins and copy its genome, and find a way to escape the cell so that the virus can infect other cells. Viruses can infect only certain species of hosts and only certain cells within that host. Cells that a virus may use to replicate are called permissive.
- 21.3: Prevention and Treatment of Viral Infections
- Viruses cause a variety of diseases in animals, including humans, ranging from the common cold to potentially fatal illnesses like meningitis. These diseases can be treated by antiviral drugs or by vaccines, but some viruses, such as HIV, are capable of both avoiding the immune response and mutating to become resistant to antiviral drugs.
- 21.4: Other Acellular Entities - Prions and Viroids
- Prions and viroids are pathogens (agents with the ability to cause disease) that have simpler structures than viruses but, in the case of prions, still can produce deadly diseases.
Thumbnail: Ebola virus. (Public Domain; CDC).